WOODSBEND — Rick and DeeDee Powers sat on the tailgate of their pickup truck and tried to make sense of the unimaginable.
Five of the six who died Friday in Morgan County called Woodsbend home. It's a tiny hamlet anchored literally in the bend of the Licking River.
Early Tuesday, looters came.
Although it was hard to see what was left to take from the trash-strewn parcel of land where John and Sherry Flannery's house stood just last week, the Powerses and a neighbor, Donna Leach, shooed off the intruders and posted themselves as guard as their friends recovered at the homes of family.
A few glass jars of fruit preserves sitting on a shelf in the corner of a cellar were all that was recognizable as the Flannerys' house. The roof lay in the driveway. A trailer from a home on top of a ridge had landed sideways, wedged against a pole. There was not a piece of furniture, not a picture frame, not a drawer of clothes or a dish unbroken. Before they shut the cellar door, the wind sucked the Flannerys' glasses from their faces.
Across the road, above the river, T-shirts and tufts of pink insulation were strung in the trees. Just past those trees, rescuers found the bodies of Emma Dean and Wilmer Cecil. Emma Dean, 87, and Wilmer, 90, shared the same Sept. 15 birthday, so at least it seemed fitting they left the earth together.
"They had a cellar about 3 feet from their house," Rick Powers said, his voice trailing off. "If they had made it ..."
Powers and his wife, who have lived in Woodsbend three years, were relative newcomers to this rural enclave where residency is measured in generations. Emma Dean Cecil was a part of the May family, who established their own cemetery near the riverbank in 1905. Husband and wife will be laid to rest there Sunday.
Up the hill, Powers pointed past a jagged line of freshly snapped tree trunks where the Endicott family had huddled together. Charles Endicott and his wife, Betty Sue, who were in their early 50s, and Charles Endicott's mother, Elizabeth Endicott, 72, all died. Their 18-year-old son Eric remains in the hospital in critical condition. Their house was destroyed.
The Powerses somehow survived in a steel building that was to be their temporary home. They were planning on building a cabin, although they might rethink that.
Donnie Gunnell's family has lived in and near Woodsbend for nearly 70 years. His daughter's two-story house is completely gone, the family truck tossed like a toy into a pond. Only the basement stands. Plywood stairs, drywall and broken boards cover the pool table where Melissa Rose and her boyfriend, Mike Justice, hid during the storm.
"You can't imagine how beautiful is up here," said Gunnell, who was checking on his daughter's property Tuesday.
How beautiful it was.