Storm Update 2011
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
I walked out my back door, and I saw Shiva walk across my city.
The air was surprisingly clear, with only a little bit of rain though the wind was very strong. And there came the tornado, maybe a mile wide, slicing right up the valley across Birmingham. Lightning flashed on its fringes, with more flashes on the ground as electric transformers exploded. It didn’t look like a tornado from the ridge line where I waited for it; it seemed like it was alive. It was very fast.
Down below, not visible through the swaying trees, lay the business I’ve devoted most of my adult life to building and sustaining. Would it be struck? The small cinder-block building with its sheet-metal roof would not survive. It might even be blown apart by the winds threatening to knock me down. People were dying as I watched, yet here I was worrying about mere possessions.
And then pieces of devastated lives began to fall from the sky: a couple of children’s toys. A plastic Tupperware lid. Chunks of home insulation, at least six different kinds. A piano key. Drink cups embossed with the logo of a barbeque joint in Tuscaloosa, about 60 miles to the southwest. And a prom picture, from the late 1970s judging by the shoulder-wide wide lapels on the boy’s electric-blue tux and the girl’s Farrah Fawcett hair. They’re smiling, looking kind of nervously happy.
Our tiny business survived; the monster veered to the northeast and broke up a few minutes later. It still managed to kill hundreds of people — the official count lists several dozen for Jefferson County as I write this, but there are many still missing over a week later. Our building is not badly damaged (just a small rent in the roof). Internet and phone service were down until the weekend. There are gasoline shortages in the area, which may affect shipping some. We haven’t done a lot of work on making games or shipping them until just the last couple of days, going out instead to help others find what’s left of their lives. And sometimes finding a whole lot worse.
Huge swaths of Birmingham and some of its suburbs are simply gone. I’ve seen mass death and destruction wrought by both man and nature, but never anything on this scale. You can view satellite before-and-after images here.
I wrote the intro for this piece right after the tornado passed by, but had decided to leave it alone — I write many things based on the feelings of a moment that I ultimately decide not to finish for one reason or another. But Janet Thompson, our customer service manager, told me I need to “communicate with something more detailed … what’s up there now just glosses over the storm.”
Avalanche Press has been fortunate over the years to employ archetypal strong Southern women, and we’re still here because we still do. But all of them have been through a great deal in the past week. And there’s little that will test that strength more than finding that the house that held your teenager is pretty much missing, or hearing your child screaming for Mommy while your home starts to disintegrate around you.
Everyone who works here came out safely, though all of us have friends and family who are homeless or worse, and we’re actually caught up on most shipping now. We’re not up to date on e-mails and other communication — everyone’s done their turn at relief work, though now the county’s reporting more volunteers than can actually be deployed and finds itself forced to limit them now that out-of-state looters have appeared to pick through what pitiful remains are left. Disaster tourism is of course in full swing as well. Our city is badly wounded and will be for a very long time.
We put shipments first, to get the games out the door and in your hands rather than talk about why they were not out the door and in your hands. There’s been an outpouring of concern from many of you, and it’s deeply appreciated by all of us. A few have been more concerned about their games, so to spare them from Janet’s wrath, here’s a brief update:
We’re pretty much up to date on orders placed just before the storm or right after. If you do not have yours yet, it should be there soon. There’s no need to call — we’re aware and are working at hyper-speed.
Winter Soldiers was turned in on time by the designer and developer to meet the April release we’d planned (but not announced). Our printer is in about the same shape we are, and we’re both finishing this up now and should have it out shortly.
Battles of 1866: Frontier Battles is only held back now by my lack of attention to its final stages, and I should be able to turn back to it in a day or two now that Beth is back to ship stuff.
Our next downloads are probably a sequel to the very successful Great War at Sea: Prizes of War, also by Jim Stear, and Jay Townsend’s design debut with a Panzer Grenadier module featuring Japanese paratroopers. I still have to concoct titles for both of these. The design and development teams have really stepped it up while our on-site employees have been out.
Red Desert. I believe I’ve figured out how to make counters for this one quickly, and if that pans out that makes this one a priority project.
If it’s not listed here, that’s no cause for despair. These are just the projects pending release right now. There’s lots more coming behind them.