In the early morning hours of Friday March 26th, my wife and I were awakened by frantic calls from family watching the news and National Weather Alerts beeping on our phones warning that a tornado was barreling down on our city.
The scramble began, we jumped out of bed to get our young children and dog to the basement, then we brace for impact. With our hearts racing, we began to call friends and notify them of the impending doom as we watched the radar real time. We were fortunate as the path of the tornado passed just miles south of our home. What happened in the following days in one of the most heartwarming, large scale responses I have witnessed.
An EF4 Tornado ripped through neighborhoods with winds upwards of 170 miles per hour and measured nearly a mile wide in areas. Residents near Newnan High School on LaGrange St and Smokey Road took shelter as they feared for their lives. In the most severely impacted areas, homes were completely swept off their foundation similar to a child knocking down a Lego tower. A landscape that took over 200 years to mature was changed in a matter of minutes. Homes constructed in the 1800s and stood through Sherman’s Savannah Campaign, are no longer. Century old oak trees were pulled out of the ground or snapped like a matchstick at the trunk. Power lines were strewn through yards and streets like spaghetti noodles. The siding and glass looked as if grenades exploded fragmentation into them, where rocks and mud tore into homes. Newnan High School, an establishment that has stood for 133 years, will never be the same as nearly every building on campus sustained damage. In the remaining tree tops, sheet metal and other household items were wrapped around limbs and form fit to tree trunks as these were the backstops for items hurled through the air.
As the Sun rose and crested on carnage that resembled a bomb site, a remarkable thing began to happen. While the tornado was able to destroy or impact nearly every physical structure, it was unable to touch the fighting spirit of the Newnan community. Much like when an ant mound is disturbed and thousands of ants jump to action to rebuild the colony, the community of Newnan mobilized a similar response to repair and rebuild the impacted areas. The sights and sounds were astounding and brought much needed hope back the broken hearts of Newnan.
Chain saws began buzzing in the hundreds clearing trees across roads and houses so residents could safely exit and relief teams could enter to provide support. The revving engines of heavy equipment was deafening as limbs, tree trunks and debris were escorted to the sides of streets for pick up. Utility vehicle buckets ascended in the air as new poles were set and linemen work feverishly to restore power. Dozens of food trucks set up in parking lots to provide food and nourishments to relief crews, free of charge. As trees were cleared off homes, hammers banged to secure blue tarps and covered roofs as far as the eye could see. Churches, non-profits, community leaders and citizens assisted boxing and moving families out of homes that were deemed unlivable.
Tears of despair turned to tears of joy as the disaster acted as a binding agent for the community. Every background and walk of life were present, arms linked moving towards a common objective. Not only was there a robust response from the local community, volunteer groups from hundreds of miles away came in over the weekend to provide a second line for the tireless working teams that were on site shortly after impact. Four wheelers, golf carts and trucks filled with cold-cut sandwiches, Chick-fil-a, barbeque plates and water were passed out by the thousands.
Many hands make light work. This expression has played out in Newnan over the past week. My challenge for each of us is to lend our talent, resources or time to make the burden of others lighter. The process to rebuild the community will be an endurance race requiring a depth of resources. If the initial response is an indication of how the future will proceed, I am encouraged to think the communal fabric of Newnan will be stronger than before for the tornado. I am proud to call Newnan home and look forward to raising my children in this community.