Arden F. Rahe had just crossed the threshold of the bedroom in his historic Great Falls home Wednesday evening when a tornado spawned by Tropical Storm David struck.
"You never heard such an ungodly noise," his wife, Annabelle Rahe, 59, recalled yesterday. "I went running in and saw that the whole two stories of the house had come down on him. He said, 'Honey, get back, I'm crushed,' and then he moaned," she said.
Rahe, 63, a retired federal employe who had lived in the modified stone-and-beam farmhouse for 25 years, died after being pinned for nearly an hour under debris from the collapse of his bedroom, bathroom and an upstairs storage area.
Rahe was one of two people in the Washington area who died as a result of the storm, one of the worst natural disasters to strike the area in years.
"'Sanford and Son' had just come on the television when he said he ought to go shut the window in his bedroom," Annabelle Rahe said. "From where he was found, you could tell he was between the foot of his bed and the window when it hit."
A massive elm tree, its root system 10-feet wide at the base, lay upended next to the house yesterday. Annabelle Rahe said that furious winds cutting directly across the site of the tree knocked it over.The base of the 200-year-old house went with it, causing the collapse of the two upper floors, and Rahe's death.
"before it fell the curtains started coming off," said 7-year-old Christy Claus, the Rahes' granddaughter, who was watching television with her grandparents when the tornado struck. "It sounded like when the table shakes and the knives and forks fall off and everything starts jingling," she said.
"I held on to Grandma and I said, 'What's that?' and she said it was the wind."
Once she had seen the damage, Mrs. Rahe tried to call the Fairfax county rescue units. "I kept getting a busy signal, or else no sound at all," she said yesterday, nervously rocking back and forth at the home of a nearby friend.
"When I couldn't get anyone on the phone I went to the door and started waving at the passing calls, calling for them to stop. None of them did, although they all slowed down to look.
"Finally I got through and a fire truck arrived, but they weren't equipped to take him to the hospital, and all the ambulances were elsewhere.
A neighbor, Eugene Appleton, took the stricken Rahe in his station wagon to a nearby hospital annex, where he was pronounced dead on arrival.
"He held out until he knew someone was there with me," Mrs. Rahe said. "He was keeping my hopes and spirits up.As soon as he knew my neighbors and friends were there and the rescue unit had arrived he made two sounds and that was it."
Yesterday Roberta Claus, 25, the Rahes' daughter, leafed through the family's photo albums. "Almost all the pictures we have of Daddy show him with the grandchildren. That's really the kind of person he was, he loved those kids," she said.
The Rahe home is located on the east side of Springvale Road between Georgetown Pike and Beach Mill Road. Mrs. Rahe said it is known locally as Napoleon's Retreat, and had served as a Civil War hideaway and as a restaurant before they bought it 25 years ago.
Rahe worked for 45 years as a statistical officer with the Federal Housing Administration before retiring in 1970. The Rahes' 33rd anniversary was Aug. 10, Mrs. Rahe said.
"He was a wonderful man, everything we did we did together," she said.
Yesterday Christy Claus "hid three of her dolls in a closet, to protect them," she said. When the breeze blew outside she snuggled into the couch and said she didn't want to "listen to that horrible wind."
Funeral plans are pending.