Military and law enforcement pros are trained to run toward the sound of trouble.
Just after midnight on Friday, March 26, thousands of residents of Newnan, Georgia, did the same thing.
Most who raced to the rescue didn’t have a lick of professional training. It didn't matter. Their friends, neighbors and fellow citizens were in trouble, and they weren’t about to wait for daylight — or permission — to offer whatever help was needed.
In this case, the need was overwhelming.
A tornado had hit the heart of town. And this twister was anything but average.
The National Weather Service classified the tornado as an EF4 storm, with winds as high as 170 mph. In the past 70 years, Only nine other Georgia twisters have been as strong. The last one was a decade ago.
Tornadoes are as fickle as they are deadly. When the sun rose and the full extent of the damage was visible, it was amazing to see an entire street where houses on one side were ruined or flattened while those just across the street were untouched.
The story made local and national news. Reporters searched for new terms to describe the devastation. Comments on social media expressed astonishment at how quickly the community had come together to offer help to anyone who needed it.
I wasn’t a bit surprised. For Newnan, it was business as usual.
I moved to Newnan a month before my daughter’s second birthday. My son was six weeks old. He turns 45 this summer.
I was in a new town in a new state and didn’t have a clue about what to expect. Some folks I met soon after moving in said the “Old Newnan” folks had all the money and called all the shots and it was hard for “outsiders” to get ahead.
I just shrugged and went to work.
I didn’t have big money or a big name, but everybody I met went out of their way to make me and my family feel welcome.
Nobody ever asked to see my bank balance, birth certificate or family tree. Whenever I needed help I got it. Whenever I was asked to help, I did.
I’ve never been treated better. And I never had anything to offer but myself and whatever talents I possessed.
People who call Newnan and nearby communities home will talk about the tornado for years. They’ll mention the damage and the loss, but most of all, I believe they’ll talk about the friends, neighbors and total strangers who supplied love, hope and muscle when it was needed most.
Since moving to Newnan, I’ve had some mild success and made some spectacular screwups. Nobody ever turned their back on me. I now live a few miles outside the city limits, but still call Newnan my home.
And I’ll always consider Newnan people part of my family.
A huge illuminated sign atop the Carnegie Building in downtown says “Newnan. City of Homes.”
There's a reason it doesn't say “City of Houses.”
Newnan has plenty of beautiful houses, including some important, historic places that are now damaged or gone.
But houses — even the nicest — are just shells occupied by people who move in and eventually move on.
Homes are places where individuals and families live and love and support each other in the good times … and the worst. Newnan has plenty.
People say Newnan will never be the same. It won’t — at least on the outside. But as long as Newnan has citizens willing to help each other out when times get tough it will come back strong.
And it will come back not just different, but better.
Alex McRae is a writer and ghostwriter and author of “There Ain’t No Gentle Cycle on the Washing Machine of Love.” He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org .