Incident at Possum Walk Creek

Incident at Possum Walk Creek

Downed trees blocked his way, but he learned there was a larger task awaiting him.

Gary Snelson and the young woman he rescued

“Gary! We need you here right now!” The dispatcher’s voice on the phone jarred me awake. Rain and wind rattled the windows something fierce.

My bedroom seemed darker than normal. I searched for the clock on my nightstand, but couldn’t find it.  The heck with it.  I had to get to work. They wouldn’t be calling if it wasn’t an emergency.

“I’m on my way,” I said, swinging my legs out of bed. “Be there in ten.”

I found my closet, grabbed a pair of work jeans, a shirt and my tool belt. I pushed my arm through a sleeve and felt a familiar surge of adrenaline. People were counting on me. That’s just the way the job is when you work for the electric company. Most people stay inside in a storm. We go out.

I felt for my watch, billfold, keys and cell phone on the dresser. Then kissed my wife, Debbie, goodbye. “I’ll be back as soon as I can,” I said.

“Be careful out there,” she said. “I’ll be praying.”

So will I, "I thought.

Outside, the rain was beginning to let up some. I was glad for that. All the sooner I’d be able to get folks’ power back on.

I’m with the White River Valley Electric Cooperative deep in the Ozarks. The power goes out a lot up in the mountains and we scramble when it does. And this was no ordinary storm. The aftermath of Hurricane Ike had hit us. We thought it might not. Now lines were down all across the county.

I jumped in my Ford Ranger pickup and fired up the ignition. The dashboard clock read 5:10 A.M. I live less than five miles from the main office. I’d be there by twenty after, maybe sooner, and get my assignment.

I pulled out onto State Hwy 160, a two-lane road, the only one into town, and headed west, the truck picking up speed. But...what was that in the road? My headlights shone on a tree that had fallen smack across both lanes. I stopped and flipped on my flashers. Got out to examine the tree.

I’m a big guy, six-foot-four, 280 pounds. But the tree was way too large for me to lift. In fact, it looked like there was more than one tree down, almost as if they’d been placed there, completely blocking my way.  Funny, I thought.  These trees are bigger than the rest, like they don’t belong here.

I got the dispatcher on my cell and explained the situation to him. “Is there someone who could swing by and pick me up?” I pleaded.

“No,” he said. “Everyone is out working. Just get here as fast as you can. I’ll give the highway department a head’s up about the trees.”

I hung up, frustrated. How on earth was I going to get to the office? I could take a maze of county roads, but there was no telling what condition they’d be in. The last thing I wanted to do was get stuck. I’d be totally useless then.

Only one other option: Backtrack to State Hwy J, then loop around on Hwy T. It would take at least 40 minutes, maybe more, and there could be flooding. Still, what choice did I have?

I climbed in the truck and headed back the way I’d come.

It felt like I was never going to get there! I knew how much work there was to do. Getting trees off of power lines. Putting up new poles. Stringing new line. It would be dark again before we were finished.

Everyone else would be hard at work by now. I wanted to be out there too, doing my job, a job I love.

I’d been called out hundreds of times in all kinds of weather. Ice storms. Tornadoes. Never once had that stretch of highway been blocked.  God, why’d it have to be blocked this time?  I demanded. I know, no way to speak to God, but I was at my wit’s end.