Toni Stauffer: Stunned by surreal evidence of storm’s fury

Reading Time: 3 minutes

I spent a couple of hours in the frigid weather Monday (3/5/19) morning taking pictures of storm damage in Smiths Station. West Smiths Station Elementary was hit. At first glance, coming in from the front, the school seemed fine. The school, in fact, was barely touched from what I could see—the playground, however, had been turned into a debris field, and the sight boggled my mind.

Playgrounds are one of those places we tend to hold sacred, a joyful part of childhood where we experience some of our fondest memories. When one thinks of playgrounds, they think of laughter, children running and playing tag, or sliding and swinging. One doesn’t think of utter devastation. The sight made me cry. 

Large trees, hurled by the 170 mile-an-hour winds, had been left uprooted, stretched out beside twisted swing sets. Pieces of aluminum siding were crumpled like paper, or wrapped around posts, caught in branches like ragged metal flags. The steel handles of the large slide were buckled, and the monkey bars tilted surreally. A blue, child-sized, plastic chair lay alone on its side, undamaged, as if it had just been casually knocked over, and a child’s desk sat amidst a pile of debris. The strangest sight had to be the basketball court. The steel posts of five of the six basketball goals had been bent down, as if a giant had pushed each one down toward the ground, while the sixth had been pulled upward. It gave me chills to think of the strength it took for that to happen. 

I left the playground and walked across the muddy, limb and debris strewn field toward a house that had lost part of its roof. The owners stood outside, tired, frustrated as they kept trying unsuccessfully to reach their insurance company on their cell phone, but they were grateful to be alive. Their neighbors next door were also spared, but their mobile home had been turned upside down and crushed. Clothing, appliances and other items were topsy-turvey, mixed in with metal, wood, and insulation. 

I moved up the street, taking pictures of houses that had blown-out windows and missing roofs. Large pine trees had been snapped in half near the base, while others across the street had been snapped in half at the top. Telephone poles were also snapped, tangled in lines and wires. Some homeowners stood talking with insurance agents while chainsaws roared in the background as Alabama Power cut fallen trees and collected the pieces. Workers and volunteers were tired but determined to do what had to be done. 

Journalists from big media outlets, all the way from Atlanta, were gathered–NBC, CBS, The Weather Channel, and others. I gave them a friendly nod, introducing myself to those who wanted to know. No doubt, they will author sensational stories complete with footage from the drone that hovered in the sky above our heads. We at The Citizen will write the stories we need to write to pay homage to those affected and to help our community come together in this time of crisis. We are small potatoes compared to those big guys, but when they are long gone, we will still be here sharing in your grief, your joy, your accomplishments—every milestone you will allow us to share, because The Citizen of East Alabama is your community newspaper. 

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