How We Got The Picture: Tornado'd in Burlington

  • Greg Kamieciak walks through what was turned into an open-air living room after a tornado ripped the roof of his Burlington home in August. His wife Laurie was home and secure in the basement at the time the tornado hit.

    Greg Kamieciak walks through what was turned into an open-air living room after a tornado ripped the roof of his Burlington home in August. His wife Laurie was home and secure in the basement at the time the tornado hit. Rick West | Staff Photographer

  • Rick West

    Rick West

 
 
Updated 10/1/2021 6:05 PM

One of the more awkward and difficult things about being a photojournalist is that in order to share the important stories in your community, you are frequently inserting yourself into someone's life at a very inopportune time.

And often they're not interested.

 

After a tornado ripped through Burlington in August, I drove around town surveying the damage and saw a home without a roof. I pulled over and took some pictures from the street since no one was home. When I checked back about a half-hour later, I found the homeowners and they quite understandably weren't in much of a mood to talk to me.

With a few pictures in hand of downed trees and some of the house from about 50 yards away, I could have just called it a day and left. But instead I asked if it was OK if I just hung around out of the way so I could be available if they had time to talk later.

They said fine and sent about making the myriad calls one makes when you have a dozen and a half damaged trees, a garage door broken in half that has trapped your cars inside, an RV trailer knocked off its blocks and a living room with no roof.

After about an hour and a little bit of us getting to know each other, they began to realize that I wasn't there to exploit their tragedy. After another hour, we talked about their ordeal and how Laurie Kamieciak had to hunker down in the basement when the twister hit, only to emerge and see daylight where a roof should have been. And how she called her husband Greg to tell him, "We've been tornado'd."

After that I was able to make pictures as Greg walked through their now open-air living room in the home they'd lived in for 25 years. And then I was able to capture the spirit of their community as friends and neighbors stopped by to help them cut up the trees that were scattered around the property.

In journalism as in life, a little patience and a little kindness goes a long way.

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