Thursday, May 5, 2011
Pray for Hackleburg
I rushed to Marion County, Ala., Wednesday evening of last week not really knowing what I would find.
At about 4:45 p.m. that day, I had received a call from my sister Vickie.
“Have you heard what’s happened here?” she asked.
I was wrapping up a paper route that began about 5 a.m. in terrible weather and actually ended in sunshine.
Tornado watches and warnings had been plentiful for two days.
“Hackleburg (Ala.) got hit by a tornado,” Vickie told me.
Then the next part made me tremble.
She said there were victims trapped on Nix Road.
“We don’t know,” she said. “It could be Uncle Mack and Aunt Kay.”
I continued to receive updates as best I could. The bulk of Marion County, Ala., was without electricity and phone service. There was some cell phone coverage.
At about 6 p.m., I decided it was time to go.
I grabbed enough clothes for an overnight stay and possibly broke the speed limit heading east on Highway 78.
At Tupelo, my other sister, Gayla, called. She works for the Alabama Highway Patrol in Hamilton.
She said she was glad I was en route. She could not talk to members of our family who were in the basement of her home. Plus, she had heard that there was extensive damage in an area near Mother’s house. Mother was not home, but she wanted me to drive by and check the house and Vickie’s. Vickie, who works at a clinic in Hamilton, was pitching in at the hospital due to the influx of tornado victims.
“Stop in Fulton and get flashlights,” Gayla told me.
It was a eerie feeling driving through my hometown of Hamilton that night – total darkness.
Mother’s house, the one I was raised in, was fine. Vickie’s was OK, too.
I spent the night with my mom, who had just found out that her brother and sister-in-law’s house in nearby Hackleburg had been demolished, that they were inside it when the twister hit but they came out OK. We later learned they had huddled in a small room and that wall happened to be one of few left standing. The house is also where my Pawpaw and Mawmaw (my mother’s parents) once lived. It was filled with lots of memories, particularly from my childhood. Now it’s gone. But most importantly, all of my family is OK.
At last count, 18 were killed in the small town of Hackleburg – population of around 1,000. It leveled most all structures in its path – a Piggly Wiggly store, the Wrangler factory, the police station, the school and so on.
The day’s tornados proved to be the deadliest single-day outbreak in U.S. history. More than 300 were killed with the number still rising. Most of those deaths came in my home state of Alabama.
One of the hardest hit towns in Mississippi was Smithville. It’s another one of my favorites. I once covered its sports teams. It was destroyed with 13 killed.
I have not yet driven to Hackleburg. I’m anxious to go, but I’m hesitant, too.
I’ve cried. When I next visit a ravaged Hackleburg, I will cry more.
It’s a place that’s dear to my heart. I love the little town and its people. My roots there run deep.
Pray for and help tornado victims. It will be a long road to recovery. But I know Hackleburg and its people will bounce back.
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