Just before 8 p.m. on Sunday, a strong storm passed through the Eagle Lake community and knocked down a large tree onto a home, trapping Mackenzie Milburn.
Mackenzie was relaxing at home with her son and boyfriend’s mother. She had spent the day relaxing at the lake, at one point helping a neighbor set up a shock collar dog fence, but in general, it was a lazy lake day.
A storm had been forecast for the evening with a warning it could get worse but no one saw what was coming. About 15 minutes before the storm hit, power went out at the lake. Power going out at the lake is kind of an ongoing joke that is told to cover the frustration of the power going out so often. When the last bad storm was forecast one person joked in a lake-based social media group that they were going to report a power outage several hours before the storm hit. It got a lot of laughs.
The power going out is not really Twin County Power’s fault, they have hard-working crews that do the best they can with what they have. They cover vast stretches of open land and go through a lot of trees to provide power to Eagle Lake. The outage Sunday night began at Onward, some 30 miles up the road. The first lines downed were taken out by a tree way out in the middle of a field. Getting equipment out there and replacing the lines is no easy task, especially after a heavy, albeit brief, rain. But that is what they do. They have a limited crew working today to restore power because another storm pulled all the help they normally get. They’re doing their best.
Mackenzie was in the south end of her newly refurbished trailer. Her dad had rebuilt and refurnished the entire thing for her but he was quick to point out that she paid for all the material, he just provided the labor and a bit of skill. When the storm first hit and the first wave of water came through you could tell this was going to be a serious storm. Normally they’ll kick up a bit and then lessen and then kick up again before fading away. This one hit hard and then intensified. Then it got even worse. In less than five minutes it went from the wind picking up and a few drops of rain to house-shaking winds blowing debris sideways with the ominous sound of tree branches cracking above. At one point there was a wall of water blowing sideways with limbs and leaves whizzing by. You couldn’t see past that wall of water, it was intense and thick. Another tree cracking could be heard.
This wind and wall of rain continued for a couple more minutes, although it seemed like it was a much longer time. One neighbor reported their house sitting high on the levee, on stilts, leaned forward and she was certain it was going to fall. She grabbed the floor and prepared for the worst.
Mackenzie hated that tree in the front yard. She had wanted to cut it down but just never got around to it. Just before 8 p.m. on Sunday that tree fell directly on her at the south end of her house. The weight of the tree, motivated by the wind, caused the roof, the ceiling and all the insulation and wires in between to slam down on Mackenzie. It knocked her down to the floor which also gave way, pancaking her between the tree, the structure of the house and the support below the trailer. Her legs and hips were jammed between the weight of it all. Although she was free from the waist up, she was slanted downward with her head towards the ground and even the strongest person couldn’t get out of that trap.
Her son and her boyfriend’s mother were able to get out of the back of the house and took shelter in a shed at the back of the property. They along with their faithful dog, Toby, rode out the storm in the shed. The other family dog, also a stray they adopted named Lacey was nowhere to be found. Toby, mom and the 5-year-old ended up staying in that shed for another 15 minutes.
A neighbor, Lonnie Rohan, heard the tree hit but was unable to get out of his house right away because of the heavy winds. Soon as they passed he was able to spot Mackenzie under the trailer. A couple of minutes later, Mackenzie’s brother showed up on the scene and instinctively started removing debris that was stacked on top of his sister. Lonnie wisely directed the brother to stop and redirected his energy to keep Mackenzie calm. And he did. When the third person arrived on the scene they followed the only light in the area to see Rohan and the brother calmly talking to Mackenzie.
Rohan has worked in construction most of his life and understood the amount of weight on her and the precarious nature of the partially collapsed structure. He calmly told the third person on the scene to call 911 and not touch anything. The third person on the scene was also directed by Rohan to get the mom and child out of the shed and to safety. They were led to a neighbor’s house where they were wrapped in blankets and made to feel comfortable.
The call to 911 ended up being the second call on the situation and clarified there was a 24-year-old trapped under a tree that had fallen on their house and to “send the cavalry.”
The cavalry was dispatched. Units from Bovina, Culkin, NorthEast and Eagle Lake along with Rescue, a FireMedic unit, FireBoss Jerry Briggs and Sheriff Martin Pace all responded. As the first of those units fought their way through the storm on 61 North, they finally made it to 465. As they raced down 465 they were stopped dead in their tracks by a large tree that had fallen across the highway. It took those highly skilled and highly motivated crews almost 20 minutes to clear the roadway enough for the units to pass.
Mackenzie remained calm.
At the scene, Eagle Lake Fire Chief Chris Libbey showed up and took control of the situation. He quickly assessed, as had Rohan, that the best they could do was to keep her calm and not move a thing until the crews arrived with the proper equipment to safely removed her. Libbey’s calm demeanor was challenged several times by people who wanted to get back there and save Mackenzie. He was firm, and at one point demanding, that they keep Mackenzie calm and not move a thing.
It worked and it was the right call.
The drive from Vicksburg and the fallen tree on the highway ended up taking time. From the first 911 call to the first rescue units arrival took over 45 minutes. During that chaotic time, Libbey directed resources and neighbors showed up to help away from the scene and had them directing traffic and removing vehicles from the single-lane roadway so the emergency units could reach the scene. After overcoming all the obstacles, the first properly equipped unit to arrive, Rescue, began to assess and within minutes the rest of the cavalry arrived.
Rescue is a specially equipped vehicle designed to arrive quickly in dangerous situations. It is staffed with the highest trained and qualified firefighters. They have saved hundreds of lives in Warren County.
Mackenzie was trapped on the backside of the trailer in the southeast corner. Rescue radioed arriving units the equipment they need to be brought back there. It seemed as if the crews began emptying the entire firetruck as lifts, braces, blocks and both versions of the “Jaws of Life” were all unloaded and thrown into a basket stretcher. They then hauled it all to the back of the property through the mud and water.
Job one was to stabilize everything to make it safe for the victim and the rescue crews. The first effort was to stabilize the area around Mackenzie. Poles were set up below her as several firefighters manually lifted the area above her in an effort to lessen the weight on her. It took cutting, moving, bracing and lifting several times before she was able to be moved at all. It then took another 15 minutes to safely and methodically extract her without causing anything to fall in on her or give way below her. 15 rescue workers put their training to use to safely remove Mackenzie Milburn from under the pile of debris.
After an hour and a half of being trapped, Mackenzie was placed on a basket stretcher and carried out to the waiting ambulance.
If that tree had fallen a couple of inches to the right or to the left this story would have a very different and painful ending.
Mackenzie is being treated at UMMC for her injuries. Her family showed up in force Sunday night to help her and there is no doubt she won’t have to worry about anything for a while as she recovers and works through rehab. The Eagle Lake community also showed up Sunday night and Monday. An endless stream of people offered to help, to check in and to see what was needed.
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