By Mike Wilcox
My fascination with tornadoes came at an early age. Maybe it was the semi-annual tornado drills we students participated in at elementary school that brought it on. Or reading about the massive tornado that all but wiped out a neighboring community back in the mid-1900s that piqued my interest. Most likely it was a combination.
Most kids like dinosaurs, but I was always more interested in tornadoes. In my book T-Rex had nothing on Tommy the Twister. Tommy could take down an entire neighborhood. T-Rex could only hurt one at a time.
As I grew older and became a semi-successful businessman, I built a large plant specifically designed to print a new national sports daily headquartered in New York City. I was proud of its state-of-the-art design and had sunk much money into an on-time build.
The night before the inaugural press run, which was to be a catered party with all sorts of sports dignitaries in attendance, a tornado swept through the area. When I arrived to see if any damage had occurred at the new plant, I was greeted by half the roof and one side of the building nearly collapsed.
I could just raise my head to the heavens and thank the Lord for sparing the essential components. The press, pre-press room and satellites were untouched. Only the roof and one side of the building had collapsed. Twelve hours later we fired up the press, passed out the congratulatory champagne and printed the first edition under the stars.
Many people in Lee County, Ala. were not so lucky Sunday. As a transplanted Michigander and tornado geek I certainly knew the damage tornadoes could incur. But even I was shocked. Twenty-three people, including three children, were killed by the massive E4 twister, making it one of the deadliest storms in the 21st century.
My home, only a short distance away, was the recipient of torrential rains but not much wind. I was bewildered and shocked when I turned on the television and saw homes demolished and roads impassable, including a freeway just a few miles away.
In a scene I had never experienced, there was newscaster Elizabeth White, standing in front of a damaged area, unable to hold back her tears and sobs of grief as she tried to explain the damage brought on by the 170-mph twister.
Now it’s a few days later, grief for many of us has given way to activism. So many neighbors, including those of us in Chambers County, have lent a helping hand to those in need.
Immediately after the devastation, local hotels offered free lodging to those displaced. Many churches and Chambers County schools became collection points for all items displaced victims could possibly need.
The support was so overwhelming the Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones sent out a press release asking people to withhold donations other than money, because collection centers were overwhelmed.
We cannot replace the loved ones lost in this disaster, just extend our sincere condolences. We can, however, rebuild homes, clear debris and bring life back to a degree of normality. That’s what is happening at a jackrabbit’s pace in Lee County.
I am proud of the people of this area for their overwhelming support. The strength of community lies in the spirit of humans. Community spirit is alive and well here.