Highlights of 2011: the tornado

Worn out but happy!


In a year full of big events, the biggest one for me was the tornado of April 16th, 2011. While the damage to our home was a 6-inch shingle, the damage to our neighborhood was significant. It also gave me a chance to really help my neighbors when they needed it.

I vividly remember growing up in Atlanta and my siblings and I being awakened by my parents and piled under a mattress in our home’s hallway as a tornado warning. The winds would howl, the rain would pound, but the tornado would remain more of an idea – an after-bedtime reason to play with my brothers and sister in the hallway – rather than a real threat. That is, until April’s tornado rolled around.

I’ve already blogged about the tornado and the cleanup efforts I participated in. Looking around the neighborhood now I see only a few homes still covered with blue tarps. Some damaged trees still abruptly end 30 feet from the ground. A ride on the Millbank section of the Crabtree Creek greenway still shocks me when I reach the path of the tornado. I dubbed that portion “Tornado Trail” and it will likely live up to that name for many years.

Still, with time comes healing. On a walk with the family through Lake Johnson park today, I pointed out to Kelly one bank of the lake that Hurricane Fran once completely stripped of trees. Now that area’s wooded over again with tall hardwoods.

Nature bounces back. And our neighborhood has weathered the storm’s after-effects very well.

Each year each of the city’s Citizens Advisory Councils nominates an organization or an individual for its Neighborhood Recognition Award. Last year the East CAC honored Powell Elementary and its PTA for the incredible service they provided to the Lockwood neighborhood following the tornado. It was one of the true highlights of my time as a CAC chair to be able to present that award.

After meeting some well-organized volunteers during the tornado cleanup, I decided to get some emergency management training through the city’s now-defunct CERT program. I felt very fortunate when I was able to lead my class of students through a disaster scenario, even though many of my fellow students were 30 to 40 years senior to me.

So now after 36 years or so of avoiding one I can say I’ve lived through a tornado. As my friend Ronneil Robinson said to me afterward, it was the day the community became a family. It was a rewarding experience to be able to help out my neighbors and get them back on their feet.

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