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Faces of the Storm: Storm's aftermath reveals those blessed to be allowed to tell their tales

3/1/07, 8:14 p.m., Hickory Hill Drive: "This is it! This is it!" he yelled over the cacophony of the storm. A low wail grew in intensity, like an unmanned train thundering toward them on ethereal tracks.

He grabbed his wife's hand. Together, with their three children they scuttled through the kitchen and out the backdoor. Fumbling, for what seemed hours, with the crawlspace latch, he finally swung it open. They all scooted under the house and closed the hatch behind.

Milliseconds later, trees in their backyard crashed onto their home, piercing once benign and untouchable branches through the roof. Rain spilled in, slicking floors swept clean earlier that evening.

Leaving them trapped in the tiny, dark space, the ghost train rumbled on, not even looking back to appreciate the laser precision damage it left in its wake.

Lee Street: "Come on! Come on! To the middle of the house!" Hearing trees snapping in the crushing gale, he gathered his family. Within 10 feet of where they huddled on the floor, a thick branch brutally carved through the ceiling.

Then, the engine clattered away.

Wet from rain slooshing in, they felt their way in the inky night, crawling out of the broken structure, over and under downed trees, and escaping to a neighbor's intact home.

Meteorologists have ballyhooed about "sudden wind bursts" causing last Thursday night's mayhem, but this county's oral historians will forever recount the tornado of 2007.

3/3/07, 2:31 p.m., Pylant Crossing: "I wasn't home. I got a call at work that I needed to check on my parents, who live down the road that way. I had a police escort."

He paused, his eyes surveying his property, like he was seeing the destruction again for the very first time.

"When we turned the corner right there, my house was gone. There was nothing left. I've never known that sickening feeling before, of complete wretchedness and thankfulness to be alive." Shaking his head in disbelief, "Thank God I wasn't home."

Pink insulation, wrapped around tree branches, glistened in the gentle breeze; giant cotton candy cones, surreally testifying to the three ring circus that recklessly rode into town. His possessions, like discarded souvenirs, littered the yard, woods, and roadway.

With nothing to patch up, put a tarp over, or pull a tree out of, he impotently tinkered with an unsalvageable, overturned boat and mused at how far the warrior wind flung his fiberglass tub.

Shank Street: "Oh, no ma'am. I wasn't home when it hit. I was working at the Board of Education, all alone. It lifted up that roof and slammed it back down. I just stood in that hallway, still as I could, scared to death."

The little porch overhang on her gray, shotgun house hung limp. Loose plastic, used to insulate her dwelling from winter's cold, flapped, beseeching onlookers' attention and imagination to turn away from the massive tree trunk splitting the edifice in two.

"I been trying to pack up my stuff. I don't know where I'm gonna store everything. Right now I'm just trying to put what I can in the back of my car. Doctor says I gotta take it easy. My sugar's been all over the place."

She smiled. I guess she knew it could be worse. She could have been standing in the hallway at home.

The ghost train mainlined across the county, whistling wildly, making unscheduled stops, sending residents, of Lee Street, Camellia Drive, Martin Luther King Boulevard, Main Street, Cobbham Road, and other places, diving for safety.

One community. Many voices. By the grace of God, still here to tell the tale.

Web posted on Thursday, March 08, 2007

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