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After collapse under weight of snow, Alden couple find they ‘don’t have a house’

Tami Diestler wasn’t asleep for more than an hour Thursday morning when a thunderous boom woke her and her husband, sending them racing to the basement as their Alden home cracked and sagged and fell around them.

Michael Diestler dashed upstairs twice, to get a phone and to get Tami’s medication, and after calling 911, they gingerly made their way outside, where they shivered in their pajamas as the house gave way under the weight of 5 feet of snow.

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On Sunday, the Diestlers were salvaging what they could from the ranch-style house, which has severely shifted to the east, ripping a gaping hole where two walls meet in their first-floor bedroom, while the front porch roof and the garage roof both completely collapsed.

The Cary Road house is Tami Diestler’s childhood home, designed by her late father and filled by her late mother, and she and her husband moved in less than two months ago.

“I don’t have a house,” said Tami Diestler, who provided a harrowing account Sunday of the Diestlers’ escape from the collapsing house three days earlier.

The lake-effect storm that ravaged a band of the Snow Belt last week left 4, 5 or even 6 feet of snow piled high on roofs, and ranch-style homes, greenhouses, carports, mobile homes and other buildings with flat roofs were most vulnerable to collapse.

Michael Diestler, in fact, planned to shovel snow off their roof Thursday, after spending seven hours Wednesday shoveling around their home, and before turning in he left a ladder propped against the house.

Tami Diestler, who is 45, said she didn’t go to sleep Wednesday night until 5 the next morning because she was concerned about the creaking noises she heard. An hour later, at about 6 a.m., a loud sound – “like a bomb going off,” she said – woke up the couple.

They knew a part of the house had fallen in, and they rushed to get into the basement, where they thought they would be safer, with their two dogs. “The whole house shook – I said, ‘Grab what you can!’ ” Michael Diestler said, describing cracks growing and items falling from the ceiling.

The Diestlers realized they didn’t have a phone with them, so Michael, who works at the Tops Markets warehouse in Lancaster, went back upstairs to get a phone.

But once he got back down, they realized that the battery was dead, so they plugged it into a charger. Michael Diestler then went upstairs a second time to get his wife’s medication, their cellphones and their tablet computers, as the creaking and groaning of the house grew louder, and by the time he returned the phone had enough power to call 911.

They made their way out of the home and stood outside in the cold as they waited for emergency responders to arrive. They later got into their vehicle to make other calls, including to their insurance company, but they couldn’t get onto snow-clogged Cary Road.

Heavy equipment was called in to make way for a crew to shut off the gas, and the power also was turned off.

The Diestlers asked that they be put up in a pet-friendly hotel because Tami couldn’t bear to be separated from their dogs.

The couple have been going back and forth between their Cheektowaga hotel and their damaged home as they try to salvage what they can of their belongings.

On Sunday, the garage door still was standing in its frame, but the roof to the garage had entirely fallen in. Michael Diestler said the garage stored two snowblowers, a riding lawn mower and all of his tools.

Several brick arches that lined the front porch fell when the porch roof collapsed, and jagged cracks mark the walls to the Diestler’s bedroom, in the northeastern corner of the home.

Inside, the exhaust hood that hung over the cooking surface on a kitchen island fell to the floor, the ceiling sags in spots, and tufts of insulation that fell out of holes in the ceiling line the carpeting.

“I cried. Today, as soon as I walked in here, that was it,” Tami Diestler said. She then picked up a Precious Moments porcelain doll – her late mother collected them – from the kitchen floor and expressed amazement that it was unbroken.

The couple were in the process of selling their former home in Cheektowaga, and all of their belongings remained boxed up in the Alden home, along with many items left by Tami’s mother, who died last year.

“There’s two homes’ worth of stuff in here,” Michael Diestler said.

Michael Diestler, with the help of friends and family, is trucking away their valuables, but Tami Diestler said that they don’t have anywhere to store everything from both homes.

Their next concern is somehow getting power to their sump pump to try to prevent flooding in the basement that could destroy everything they’ve kept down there.

Tami Diestler was overcome with emotion as she showed off the different features her father designed in the home and as she tried to describe what the loss of her family home means to her.

She said she hopes to save the items that were dearest to her, and to her parents, before the home is condemned and she has to leave it for good.

“This is everything,” she said.

email: swatson@buffnews.com