“You didn’t even hear it. You looked over, and we were being engulfed,” said Kami Scott, standing in the midst of the tree branches that had swallowed her Chicopee Village home the day before.
Scott and boyfriend Dustin Bland were out on their porch at 5:36 p.m. Monday sitting with a small fire as they watched the remnants of what was Hurricane Irma twist Gainesville into knots.
They heard the pops and snaps of trees fall in the wooded lot across from their home. And without a sound, a curtain of oak branches fell around them — shocking the couple and their two dogs, Ruckus and Jada.
A large oak tree had uprooted from the next property on N Avenue in the former mill town and had crashed onto a roof over the bedroom on the right side of the house.
“I was terrified,” Scott said. “I just literally started crying … it was pretty severe.”
No one was injured in the fall.
Rainwater began dripping into their rental home’s bedroom from the broken ceiling, forcing the couple to clear the room of its furniture. The ceiling’s cracks were growing Tuesday as the roof continued to bear the weight of the tree.
Scott and Bland left the home shortly after the first treefall. In their absence, another tree fell on the opposite side of the house, landing on the N Avenue power lines and blocking the stairs to the house.
They’d been using a neighbor’s steps up the steep hillside to get access to the house by jumping their fence.
Their home still had power Tuesday, but the outdoor meter had been torn from the side of the home and was lying live on the grass as downed and tangled power lines stretched over wet earth and chain-link fence.
Scott and Bland were getting help from friends and relatives but couldn’t do any substantial cleanup because they were told to wait until an insurance company had seen and recorded the state of the property.
The county and power providers were aware of the downed lines, but the scope of Tropical Storm Irma’s damage meant N Avenue would be sitting tight for some time while other, more damaged areas were cleared.
Chicopee Village as a whole is in much the same spot. The century-old, unincorporated village off Atlanta Highway had multiple structures struck by trees, including homes, a school and a church.
Fewer than two hours after the N Avenue tree was collapsing onto Scott and Bland’s house, an enormous water oak tree crushed the front entrance of the Chicopee Baptist Church office.
“We were kind of riding around surveying the damage, and we were sitting right there in front of the church office,” said Chicopee resident Angela Dooley. “That tree, no warning or nothing, it just pretty much went down.”
Dooley, who was with her boyfriend, Ben Dougherty, watching the fall from a pickup truck about 20 feet away, said the tree appeared to fall in slow motion but landed with a sure blow on the church office.
Clyde Self, pastor of Chicopee Baptist Church, said nobody was injured.
“The crazy thing was, I don’t remember hearing any sound,” Dooley said.
Neither Dooley nor Scott heard the trees fall — a chilling fact for the women, who felt they were caught by surprise and, had things happened differently, could have been seriously injured or worse.
Chicopee Village became part of Hall County decades ago after beginning its life as a Johnson & Johnson mill town.
The oak trees that were planted in the medians between its streets and sidewalks have long overgrown their homes. Many are dead or dying and have rotten cores, likely leading to more than 10 of the trees falling in the area and cutting power to much of the neighborhood.
While many of the trees cracked and shattered, the largest of those in the neighborhood — long identified as problem trees that have been chewing up roads and sidewalks — simply fell over as their roots or trunks gave away in the wind storm.
Dooley recalled the only thing going through her mind as she watched the tree cut through the air to land on the office: “Let’s get the hell out of here.”