Damaging twister still a dark presence

The Southerner

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Will Staples

“Alert: the national weather service has issued a tornado warning to the following counties: …”

When a weather bulletin scrolls across our television screens, we often express dissatisfaction or annoyance but rarely fear. On the night of March 14, 2008, what I had thought of as only an overcautious procedure became a shocking reality.

That night, a storm approached from the west and manifested itself as a barreling F2 tornado. The tumultuous, spiraling column of air ravaged Atlanta’s interior and greatly damaged beloved landmarks, businesses and residential neighborhoods. The area that sustained some of the most severe damage was Cabbagetown, where I live, and its connected historical district.

I had arrived home just an hour or so prior to the event to greet my mother and three dinner guests eating at the kitchen table. No one had any idea of the impending danger the looming rain clouds posed. I brushed off the televised tornado warning as needless paranoia, but as soon as the storm hit. I could feel my previous intuitions were all wrong.

The thunderstorm raged for a minute or so before I shot up and reacted. Soon, my room began to shake, and I found myself struggling to balance. Everything previously on a shelf or hanging from a wall was soon displaced or flung to the floor. The lapses of time between lightning strikes and thunderous crashes grew shorter as my surroundings began to quake and quiver, and I lowered myself to the floor.

The lights in my home let out one last weak flicker before extinguishing completely. All I could hear was what sounded like a train bolting directly beside me, followed by a cacophony of fracturing crashes.

I lay motionless for a brief moment in the silence to assure myself the crisis was over then bolted up to find the others in my home miraculously unharmed. I also came to discover that a large black walnut tree had crashed into my living room and the bedroom directly above it. The house was deemed uninhabitable until repairs were made over the next five months.

My home’s damages were not unlike other homes in the neighborhood. Upon stepping outside, we found disarray among our neighbors’ homes and, soon after, the entire community. The streets were unnavigable, with overturned trees and rubble littering their fissured surfaces.

I remain awestruck at the damages sustained in such a short amount of time. The event occurred almost exactly four years ago, but many Cabbagetown civilians still remember that day vividly.

Making matters more complicated, many residents had to search for historical district-approved materials  with which to rebuild their homes. The tornado continues to be featured in local artwork and publications as well as on T-shirts and merchandise for local events, such as the Chomp & Stomp.

The tornado season in the Southeast this year is proving to be one of the most active in years. Particularly devastating and well-publicized tornadoes have been fairly common, such as the F4 that raged through Indiana on March 4. After barreling through the small town of Henryville, it trailed off toward the east coast, leaving the rural communities to pick up the pieces.

No one deserves such a horrific experience, and no one expects it to befall them. I know I was oblivious to the threat until it was too late, but thankfully I was lucky enough not to sustain any serious losses. My hope is that future victims will take the preventative steps necessary to avoid the long-lasting consequences of the next natural disaster.

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