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Willow whomps Tucker Road home

January 25, 2012

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Live electrical lines dangle amidst the dripping water and broken rafters of the Kubitschek home on Tucker Road.

While many of us heard the cracks and groans of trees giving way during the ice storm last week, the Kubitschek family experienced those terrible omens in a much more personal way.

It was around 1:30 a.m. on the early morning of Jan. 20 when Elaine and Martin Kubitschek, their daughter Nicole Todd, 25, and their grandson Dakota Miller, 5, were violently awakened by the sound of a giant willow tree crashing through their roof.

"It was a huge bang and there was breaking glass," said Martin, who has been renting his Tucker Road home for 18 years. "It woke us up and we got out of the house."

The tree, a massive yellow-branched willow with its 8-foot-diameter trunk now upended, smashed into the center of the Kubitschek's home located on Tucker Road just south of Windmaster Market, destroying their kitchen and splitting the home right down the center across the roofline.

"We got dressed and out of the house with my daughter and grandson," said Elaine. "We called 9-1-1 and told them that electrical lines were hanging loose in the kitchen and the power was still on."

As of Jan. 23, the power was still on in the Kubitschek's rain-soaked home with Pacific Power apparently buried themselves under downed lines across roads and power restoration emergencies to attend to.

"We're making the best of it," said Elaine. "We're running an extension cord to our camp trailer in the yard where we are living now. We've sent my daughter and grandson to stay with family."

"We stayed at Prater's Motel on Friday and they were nice enough to give us a discount," said the couple who has since stayed in their tiny cab-over camper.

While many passers-by have stopped to take photos of the monster-like willow and its destructive impact on the Kubitscheks' home, no official visitors have come to help, as of presstime.

"We hope that friends will help us out with some equipment to pull off the tree," said Martin. "We're waiting until the weather clears."

"Until we get the tree off and assess the damage, it's hard to tell what could be done," said Martin, a carpenter who is currently laid off. The kitchen roof lies smashed open under the immense weight of the mid-section of the giant tree. Electrical lines, rafters and roofing material dangle in the rain-drenched area.

"The house is not insured. It is unlikely to be repaired," said Elaine. "My son came to help us clean up and saw the smashed door jamb where we marked everyone's height as they were growing up. He was really broken up. This is the only home he's ever known."

When asked what help the family might need, Elaine said, "We will be looking for housing." She hopes to find a two-bedroom where her grandchildren can still come and visit.

The family has managed to retrieve some furniture and clothing from the ruined home.

Elaine, who has diabetes, also lost medication and supplies that were kept in the kitchen. In the chaos, everything was soaked in water and debris, or cleaned up afterwards.

After several days of difficulty reaching the disaster representative for the Hood River area, on Jan. 23 the Kubitscheks received an offer from the Red Cross of a few nights' lodging in a hotel while they sort things out.

"It's just stuff," said Elaine with a wan smile as she reflected on her loss. "It's funny though ... Dakota asked for a tree house and we told him the tree wasn't strong enough. When we were leaving here at 3 in the morning, he looked at his papa (grandfather) and said, 'I have a tree house now!'- We wouldn't put a house in the tree but now we have a tree in the house."

Dakota Miller is in kindergarten and just transferred to Westside Elementary from Mid Valley. He and his mother will be staying with relatives in The Dalles until the family locates new housing.

The home's owner, Rod Regorah, who lives in a home on the adjacent property, was unavailable for comment.

Willows, which are known for their brittle limbs and shallow roots, are often the first trees damaged during wind and ice storms. There were many other large willows around Hood River showing similarly dramatic breakage and toppling.

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