The noted author, Mark Twain, once wrote “I’ve never wished a man dead but I’ve read some obituaries with great pleasure”. As a fan of Twain, I can think of no better words to sum up my feelings on the killing of Osama bin Laden this past Friday by elite forces of the United States Navy and the perfect way to close a chapter on a week that Franklin D. Roosevelt would have surely called a “week that will live in infamy”. In fact, the final week of April, 2011 will no doubt go down in history as one of the most tragic and remarkable weeks of the twenty-first century for a lot of people, including myself. It started with the roar of the wind and ended with the sounds of cheering but all that happened in between would fill a book; devastating tornadoes, a royal wedding and the eradication of the most wanted man on the planet. More on the cheering later but first, the wind….
Tornado watches in the south during the spring are almost as common as the number of convenience stores that sell lottery tickets; in fact, we tend to take them for granted because 95% of the time, nothing ever comes of them. The far less common warnings are another matter because when they are issued, it usually means one is happening somewhere. The early morning hours of April 28th was an altogether different event for me and for thousands of others around Georgia as we were literally being pummeled by warnings. The local ABC affiliate in Atlanta was providing live minute by minute coverage of one of the most violent and turbulent weather systems that had been seen in decades as it moved out of Alabama, leaving behind a path of death and destruction, and headed into my home state of Georgia.
My wife had gone to bed and as I watched the television coverage and the live radar feed on my iPad, I began to mentally prepare for the possibility we might get hit. Two tornadoes were moving fast in the direction of my home county and even though we were not under a warning yet, I knew with certainty that it was just a matter of time and I began to make preparations. I remembered to put the cat in the cage with the dog (fortunately they are buddies) because I did not want to be like all the families you see on TV where they head for the shelter and realize that the family pet is out loose. I wanted to be sure I could grab the entire cage and move it with us if we had to go to the neighbor’s basement and I felt better seeing their front porch light come on across the street, a prearranged signal to come over if things got bad. I prepared for Plan B, the central bathroom, if something came up fast and we couldn’t leave the house. I cleared a space under the vanity for my 6-year-old, leaving the towels in place and shutting off the water supply to the sink; I figured if we took a direct hit, he might survive with more protection even if we didn’t and towels would give him some cushioning. After this, I sat back and watched nature take its course and what a course it took.
The first tornado struck hard in the neighboring county, moving northeast toward a small town called, ironically, Sunnyside. The weatherman could not hide the tenseness in his voice nor that he was impressed that a debris cloud could be detected on radar, usually indicating a very large tornado. As it moved through that area, it became clear that the tornado would likely miss our county completely, although it was moving through an area that was a little “too close to home” to suit me. Suddenly, the focus changed as the other tornado decided to announce itself and the weatherman began to track this one more closely as it churned its way through another neighboring county to the south of us. This one caused me greater concern because it was on a direct path for the southeastern part of our county. By then my wife was up again and we were both tracking the system using the TV, the iPad for radar and our Blackberries for everything else. One of the most unlikely sources of useful information during an emerging and mobile crisis such as this one is Facebook. Viewing the news feed of my friends on their and knowing where most of them live gave me a good idea of what was happening and where it was happening. When the tornado warning was finally issued, this was broadcast by Facebook friends within seconds of the notification. I called our dispatch center and told them to activate the sirens (they were already working on that) and then I broadcasted a warning on our official county Facebook page, knowing that it would be forwarded and would multiply exponentially within minutes. All we could do now was sit back and wait.
We were lucky; not just my family but the entire county we live in. The tornado, which they later determined was an F3 on the scale, struck our county, carving a half mile wide swath through what turned out to be the most uninhabited part of our county. Aside from a church steeple that toppled and some roof shingles dislodged on a house, no one lost their home and more than that, no one lost their life. I’m not saying it wasn’t a big mess because it certainly was. I was out with rescue workers and public works people the rest of the night and I will never again be able to smell the scent of pine resin without thinking about that night and the thousands of trees that were snapped off in that forest, a lot of which were dumped by the storm in the middle of the road, blocking emergency vehicle access for hours. As I said, we were lucky though; just a few miles away, in three of our neighboring counties, there was tremendous damage to homes, businesses and public facilities and two of these counties reported two deaths each.
How does one feel after such an event like this? I felt a mixture of things: relief that we were missed and that my family was safe; concern for family members in Alabama that I had not heard from; shock at the images of destruction in neighboring communities that I know almost as well as my own hometown; awe at the power of something that could mow down an entire forest of trees, cutting the tops of them off like a lawnmower cutting blades of grass; and amazement at the sight of a church just 100 feet from the damage path that only suffered a broken steeple and a toppled storage building, almost as if Someone were personally watching out for it. I must also add to that list awareness that no matter how I felt about it personally, that it doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of how others are feeling right now….those that lost family members….homes….personal treasures and family heirlooms….their feeling of security.…and in some cases, every familiar place they knew, gone and replaced with a landscape that is both alien and overwhelmingly depressing. It will take a long time to rebuild what is gone and in many cases, it will never be the same again. It all reminds me to be thankful for what I have because it can be gone in an instant. Lives can change in the span of moments and that is something we must never lose sight of.
Around the world, while billions focused on the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, our defense forces were focusing on taking out the most notorious criminal in modern times and concluding one of the longest man hunts ever mounted. Like most people, I can never forget the day the World Trade Center fell. While it was only one part of all that happened on September 11, 2001, it is the most visible part and the images that are etched in our collective conscience of the towers being struck, of people jumping from heights of over 100 hundred stories, of the collapse of first one and then the other of the two towers and ending in a storm of smoke, dust and debris will remain there as long as we are around. Other images of unity, suspension of partisan politics, national mourning and the resolve shown by the American people will always be there too and no one has forgotten President Bush’s vow that we would get the person responsible for this, even if it was long after he left office. President Obama made it a priority as well and after nearly a decade of searching, this criminal has finally gotten the much-deserved punishment for his atrocities committed against people of this country and other nations that promote freedom and independence. No, this doesn’t mean the war is over and all is well, nor does it mean life will ever go back to the way it was before 9/11…..things are never that easy and others will always be ready to rise up and take his place so we must continue to be vigilant against the forces of those who would destroy us….but I do find some personal satisfaction in this, knowing that now those people who died on that day can finally rest in peace and their families can get on with their lives a little easier. His death will not replace those loved ones who never came home but hopefully they can put some of the issues he caused behind them now.
It has definitely been a week that will live in infamy and as far as I’m concerned, infamy can have it.
___________________________How you can help disaster victims in the Southeast: As residents begin the daunting task of cleanup after the storm destruction, here are some ways you can help from wherever you are. More than 340 people have died as a result of violent storms and devastating tornadoes, and thousands of others have lost everything. Charities have offered an outpouring of support across the South. Here’s how you can offer your help, as well.
United Way-The boots on the ground in the devastated Tuscaloosa area, the United Way is accepting donations of all types that they will then distribute to the immediate victims. You can donate non-perishable food, clothes, tarps, and of course, cash, — 100% of which, they say, will stay in the afflicted areas. Go to http://liveunited.org/
The American Red Cross-The Red Cross remains a leader in disaster relief, having opened more than 40 emergency shelters across the hardest-hit states. They’ve served more than 250,000 meals to those impacted by the twisters and distributed 22,000 items like clean-up supplies across the area. You can follow their progress on their blog http://www.blog.redcross.org and donate through http://www.american.redcross.org or via text message by sending “REDCROSS” to 90999 to give $10.