By Russ Stanton
There is a part of Alabama affected by the tornadoes that hasn’t hit the mainstream news that much. Tallapoosa and Elmore Counties were physically isolated from the majorly reported damage in Tuscaloosa and Birmingham by about 100 miles. But, 6 tornadoes, a combination of F-3 and F-4 strength, touched down there wreaking their destruction onto these sleepy communities. They killed 7 out the 236 currently reported casualties in Alabama. They also destroyed property that in some cases can never be restored.
The storms were so strong that they tore up gravestones, snapped trees like twigs and flattened some houses and a church beyond recognition.
These communities are right on Lake Martin, a 44,000-acre lake with over 750 miles of wooded shoreline and once the largest man-made lake in the world.
The tornadoes hopped highway 63 causing some damage to Children’s Harbor, a retreat for terminally ill children, and then sped across the lake to hit many waterfront neighborhoods and luxury homes located on the lake.
Fortunately, Children’s Harbor was between visitations.
The fact that these people were so far from the main press attention really doesn’t mean that much to folks in these parts. However, even after almost 2 weeks, the destruction is still the topic of conversations in the beauty parlors, convenience stores and bait shops, transcending even Bin Laden’s death.
But despite the damage to this somewhat isolated area, the people here see Alabama as one state, and even the notorious Alabama – Auburn rivalry can’t keep people from helping out. Tuscaloosa, by the way, is the home of the Alabama Crimson Tide, and while the campus wasn’t hit, the entire town of Tuscaloosa is devastated.
As an ESPN article called it, “its not a rivalry, that’s Ohio State – Michigan. Alabama-Auburn is a holy war.” It’s true, that from birth, children learn to say “War Eagle” or “Roll Tide”, before they can say Mommy or Daddy.
Elmore and Tallapoosa Counties are only 30 minutes from Auburn, and Auburn flags are much more in abundance than Crimson Tide Flags in these parts. Despite the damage here, Auburn Coach Gene Chizik and about 70 followers, some from the damaged areas of Lake Martin, boarded buses and traveled to Tuscaloosa to help in the relief effort no matter what was needed. About 37 Alabama National Guardsmen from Tallapoosa County also dispatched to help squash looting that was occurring in those areas.
In addition, a Toomer’s for Tuscaloosa (Tide) fund was created to help the Tuscaloosa and Birmingham areas with relief donations.
For those who don’t know, Toomer’s Corner is the legendary site of oak trees, on the Auburn campus, that are toilet papered after every Auburn win, and its been a tradition for almost a century.
An Alabama fan, although fans won’t accept him, poisoned the trees a few months ago, was arrested, and Alabama fans were so outraged that they started a “Tide for Toomer’s” fund to help replant or save the trees, an outreach that brought a tear even to hardened Auburn fans.
Coach Chizik and Alabama coach Nick Saban stood together at Radio City Music Hall last Thursday as NFL commissioner Roger Goodell stood with them in a moment of silence for the tornado victims. Auburn’s Cam Newton and Nick Fairley and Alabama’s Marcell Dareus, Mark Ingram, and Julio Jones joined them.
On the “Toomer’s for Tuscaloosa” website, Pam Crawley wrote, “We will move mountains to help each other. We are family, father, mother, sister and brother. Thank God we live in such a great state. Where people give their all no matter what it takes.”
Alabama will rebound with a cohesive spirit that moves beyond troubles, devastation and loss, and as we mark the 2-week anniversary of the tornadoes that ravaged the state, its good to know that the spirit does transcend all that.