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I will always remember the videotape

I will always remember the videotape. The were horrors galore but the videotape is permanently etched into my mind’s eye. We thought the storm had passed. At least one TV weatherman said the danger had diminished. I had just drifted off to sleep when the first call came. ’It just went by my house,’ she cried. I threw on my clothes and drove off into a stormy night a year ago this week. I encountered nothing but rain until I reached the Hot Shot store on Veterans Parkway. It was gone. So was a church across the street. I worried about Joe and Pat Edwards who lived atop Dozier Hill right in the storm’s path. I dug Joe’s cell number out of my phone’s memory and called. They were okay but the landscape around their home had been altered forever. They were not alone. I made it to Grove Street where everything had been leveled. There was no reason to wait on the weather service diagnosis. It was apparent we were dealing with a tornado and a powerful one at that. I arrived quickly but the place was already teeming with emergency personnel and good samaritans. They carried the injured to ambulances, stepping over downed trees, power lines and nail-studded beams from homes now only a memory. A fireman walked by carrying young Chloe Gunter. ‘Mama blew away,’ she told her rescuers. The only light was hand-carried. I used a small flashlight to frame photos so the autofocus on my Nikon would work. The high-speed lens brought to life chilling images the naked eye could not make out. Off in the distance, I saw men standing in a circle. There was a crumpled body at their feet. It appeared as if every bone had been broken. It was the little girl’s mother. Her father’s body lay in a heap nearby. We all cried. Radio traffic reports indicated other areas of devastation: Crawford Road, Howard Road, Hwy. 36 – the list went on and on. We all knew it was bad but, when dawn broke, we got a true picture of the devastation. It was incredible. I spent the rest of the day and most of the following night reporting on the aftermath. I would drive as far as possible then walk into the tangled detritus of the winds. I just knew more bodies would be found but I was, thankfully, wrong. That in itself was a miracle. Equally miraculous is the way this community united in relief and recovery efforts that are now the models used when disaster strikes. Homes have been rebuilt. Trees have been replanted. Slowly, the long wound the tornado slashed into our collective skin is healing. The videotape, hundreds of yards of it sucked from cassettes by the tornado, hung in gnarled trees the morning after the storm like some sort of macabre garland. If you look closely, you can still glimpse a shred here and there. But, our horror movie is over. Ours is a generous, caring community. We help those in need. We’ve survived. We’re recovering. We’re moving on. And, we learned a great deal about ourselves in the process.

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