Photo by: Birney Imes/Dispatch Staff
April 29, 2014 11:17:31 AM
Maybe there is something to that old saying, "The good guys wear white hats."
By 6:15 p.m. the storm, or at least the worst of it, had passed over Columbus. I had watched it from my front door on Third Avenue South, ready to take cover if the situation warranted. At one point, when mothballs started falling from the sky, I dashed out into the rain and moved my car to the shelter of an oak across the street. The power blinked once, but other than the hail and rain, downtown appeared to be unscathed.
Traveling east on 182, you could see that was not the case elsewhere. Beyond Propst Park the power was off; just past Brown's Farm Supply on the right, a sign had been ripped off a medical clinic; east of Lehmberg, along 182, trees lay on power lines.
On Lee Stokes Road, a passing car flashed its lights. Near the intersection of Lee Stokes and Colby Lane, two trees were down, making the road impassable. I turned right onto Colby, a half-mile gravel strip, home to maybe a dozen families.
The houses, though dark, looked to be intact. Their yards were littered with the belongings of the inhabitants. An upside-down white wicker chair sat next to a mangled trampoline next to a piece of gutter. Upended trees added to the surreal quality of the landscape. By the time I drove to the end of the Colby and turned around, a truck had stopped in the middle of Stokes Road. The beam of its headlights illuminated a man and woman attacking a fallen pine lying across the road.
The man, in a white cowboy hat and cowboy boots, sawed the tree into manageable pieces and the woman dragged them aside. They worked at a furious pace, just the two of them, in driving rain. The pine out the way, they pulled their truck closer to the second, larger tree and began whittling on it. By this time a 4-County crew had arrived and was going at it from the other side.
A man waiting in a small pick-up said he was on his way to pick up his son, whose house near Pleasant Hill Baptist Church was torn up by the tornado. "He called me hysterical," the man said. "I'm going to get my son and take him home with me."
In short time, they had the roadway cleared. The man in the white hat, chainsaw in hand, headed back to his truck. When asked his name, he merely grunted, got in his truck with the woman and drove away.
They weren't the only ones. All along Stokes and Tabernacle roads, chain saw-wielding volunteers worked in the rain, carving up and removing storm debris.
Finally, I made it to the home of two older friends I had gone to check on. Though trees were down all over their property, their home and out buildings appeared to have escaped major damage. I found them in good spirits, sitting in their living room, two candles burning, fielding calls from concerned friends.
"Yeah, you need to come out and check on me," the man was saying to the telephone.
"Must be a woman," the woman said.
Driving back toward town on Tabernacle Road at 8:15, groups of volunteers were clearing the last of the trees across the road. Whatever had happened, the worst of it appeared to be over. The long, painful process of picking up the pieces had begun.
Birney Imes III is Publisher of The Dispatch.