Been there

Published 4:30 pm Tuesday, March 5, 2019

did something Sunday night that I wouldn’t have done many years ago and it was a good thing. With the possibility of tornadoes around the early evening, I prepared for them by seeking out the safest inner room in the house. That’s a legacy from last fall’s Hurricane Michael.

Our prayers go out to the people of Lee County in our neighbor state, Alabama. Seeing the footage of the aftermath of Sunday’s deadly tornadoes that ripped through that county, reminded me of waking up Thursday, October 11, 2018 and looking out my front door. It also reminded me of Valentine’s Day, 2000.

I was living in Mitchell County at that time and was awakened in the middle of the night by the telephone. As a chaplain for the Mitchell County hospital, they were calling for all hands on deck. I was told a tornado had hit the area around Camilla and I was needed at the hospital.

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As I drove to Camilla, I thought to myself, “How bad can a tornado be?” “Why are they calling the chaplains?”

As I drew near to the hospital, I saw some debris along Highway 19, but it was too dark to see anything else. When I arrived at the hospital, I immediately understood the call.

Ron Gilliard, who lives here in Bainbridge, was the hospital administrator. I remembered Ron from high school football days. He played for the Mitchell County Panthers and I was an opponent of his with the Pelham Hornets. That’s a story for another day.

The hallways of the hospital were full of beds and people in them. Many people seemed to be in shock. The tornadoes hit in the middle of the night with no warning. I couldn’t offer any medical help, but I found some way to help the staff. Sometimes, just being there helps.

As dawn came, the action at the hospital slowed and about 8:00, I left. It was then that I saw the shocking scenes of devastation. I rode down one street and every home had been blown away. All that was left were the concrete slabs and the memories of what used to be.

Another subdivision with upscale housing and beautiful landscaping had been hit hard. The tornadoes didn’t discriminate between rich and poor. If the house was in the path, it mattered not whether it was brick or wood.

Tornadoes are different from hurricanes in that they go up and down. Hurricanes just bull their way right through. There’s no difference in the destruction, though.

I knew many who had been affected, but one that I remember best. Branchville Road was hit and I had a great aunt who lived on it. She was in her mid-eighties and had lived in her big house all her life. I rode out to see if she had been affected.

I expected to see her house and check on her, but rode right on past where she lived. I was confused because I remembered her red-roofed house with the large and inviting front porch. I turned around, thinking that I couldn’t have missed her house. I drove back. I kept looking for her house. I suddenly realized that I couldn’t find her house because it was no longer there.

It had been blown away! The house that she had lived in all of her life was simply no more. Thankfully, she was at a neighbor’s house, but had been in the house when the tornado hit. She was very fortunate that she was not among the eighteen who had perished.

Twenty-three people lost their lives in Alabama this past Sunday. I’m sure their families will never forget Sunday, March 3, 2019. May God comfort the people of Lee County, Alabama.