On any given day, The Newnan Times-Herald has a unique advantage when it comes to a community-wide perspective. We see and hear a whole lot of the goings-on around here, both good and bad.
After a disaster, inequalities and discrepancies in opportunities within a community can become glaringly obvious. The haves and have-nots will each trudge their own separate paths toward recovery, with some arriving back to a sense of normalcy before others, while some will never recover.
It seems Newnan is refusing to accept the latter option. If anyone doubted about whether the #NewnanStrong spirit that grew from the neo-Nazi rally protests of 2018 is still alive and well, look no further than the nearest blue tarp.
We were notified that the National Weather Service had declared a tornado emergency for Newnan shortly after midnight on Friday, March 26.
Before the 170-mph winds had fully died down, we were getting reports of friends, neighbors and relatives who were out in the pitch blackness checking on each other. We listened as first responders, struggling with impassable roads and unable to respond to calls for help in their vehicles, hit the ground and walked door to door to make sure everyone was OK, using their backup radios and cell phones if necessary.
By dawn, the air was buzzing with the sounds of chainsaws – not from GEMA, the Red Cross or national disaster relief teams, but thanks to the fire departments of both Newnan and Coweta County, the Newnan Police Department, utility companies and locals who came in on ATVs and side-by-side off-road vehicles to help clear debris.
Strangers flocked to the areas hardest hit by the colossal EF4 tornado, handing out water, snacks and helping hands. Our photographers on the scene watched kids as young as 8 years old helping their neighbors clear branches.
Others came just to console and pray with those who had lost everything.
COVID be damned. Sometimes you just have to hug someone’s neck and let them know it’s going to be OK.
After an overwhelming number of calls from people asking how they could volunteer, a Volunteer Coordination Center was set up at Smokey Road Middle School. Busloads of volunteers were brought out to the Smokey Road area to help with storm recovery efforts, working in four-hour shifts for days to help clear debris.
Our churches also sprang into action. One group in particular that formed as a result of the infamous neo-Nazi rally, the Pastors and Leaders Luncheon group, rallied their contacts of more than 140 local pastors and leaders to come to the aid of their parishoners and fellow citizens.
As a direct result of their combined efforts, Newnan First United Methodist Church, Central Baptist Church and Newnan Presbyterian Churches were each hosting shelters, which were equipped with cots and blankets, recharging stations, hot meals, showers and free counseling to help the victims cope with the effects of living through a horrific trauma.
We’ve watched as members of Macedonia Baptist Church handed out Easter baskets to kids of all ages in the hard-hit Chalk Level neighborhood, donating more than 150 baskets full of candy, chocolate, toys, stuffed animals, pens and coloring books.
In another part of the neighborhood, members of Change Church in Grantville fired up a grill and gave out hot dogs, chips, water, hugs, fellowship and prayer to those in need.
Before power and internet service was restored, NuLink set up free WiFi hotspots around town.
The Coweta chapter of the NAACP joined several congregations and handed out free food as well as diapers, wipes, toiletries, cleaning supplies, water and hand sanitizer.
The Veterans Club served as a drop-off location and resource center for food, clothing, toiletries, batteries and other necessities.
Students from local schools showed up in force as well, offering their assistance wherever needed most.
Even the youngsters got involved. Over in the SummerGrove neighborhood, Anna Dickinson, 10, and her sister Ally, 8, came up with the idea to sell popcorn, blueberry muffins and lemonade to raise money for those impacted by the tornado. Their original goal was $500, but they quickly surpassed that.
They plan on bringing their donation to the Coweta Community Foundation, a publicly supported 501(c)(3) organization that helps focus local philanthropy on the community's changing needs.
Coweta County Emergency Management Agency/Coweta 911 established its official disaster relief fund with the Coweta Community Foundation, and money is pouring in. One local business, Southern States Bank, has already donated $45,000 to Coweta’s disaster recovery effort.
One thing we didn’t see was looting or the wave of scam artists who seem to inevitably follow these kinds of disasters. There just wasn’t room – our community is too tightly woven.
Perhaps the lasting legacy that will come from last week’s EF4 tornado will be the community spirit of Newnan residents is alive and well and, come hell or high water, will always be #NewnanStrong.