TALBOTTON, Ga. -- There’s a community in Georgia still taking it day-by-day after an EF-3 tornado tore through town, changing lives forever.
It’s been nearly two weeks since the March 3 tornado that first struck down in Lee County, Alabama where it killed 23 people. When it left Alabama, it moved through Georgia leaving damage on a scale the locals had not yet experienced.
I’d never seen anything like it in my life. Despite a lifetime of seeing tornado damage on TV, I wasn’t prepared for how it felt to drive up on it.
This is a reflection of us being in that space after all of the news crews had left and as the people worked to create a new normal.
I’m the kind of journalist that spends more time in the newsroom than out in the field. For years I’ve sat in newsrooms as images and storytelling showed me the devastation, but that does not compare to driving up on it, standing in the middle of it and shaking the hands of the people living through it.
For the first time, I saw what recovery looks like once all the attention has turned somewhere else while the people affected the most continue to move forward. That movement is different for everyone. Each house has a different story about what that movement looks like and how long it will take.
Almost two weeks after a tornado formed in Alabama, taking lives and changing others forever before moving into Georgia, my husband and I packed a couple of saws and a wheel barrel into the hatchback and drove south.
This storm felt personal to me. Had it changed course even slightly, it could have hit the city where I grew up, where most of my family still lives.
When we arrived to Talbotton, Ga. we found the volunteer headquarters and met the friendly people who’ve been working constantly since the moment the storm moved through. This family said for the past 12 days, they’d only seen their home in darkness because they’ve left early and returned home late at night because there is so much to be done.
We got our assignment, a Vietnam veteran who lived alone with his bunnies and a really big dog named Puppy Love. The tornado left the elderly gentleman with a tree through the roof of his home. It also destroyed his Ford and left the homes he built for his bunny rabbits knocked over and covered in limbs and debris.
Some of the bunnies were trapped in their homes that were covered in tree limbs and turned on their sides. Other bunnies were hopping loose on his property and taking refuge under large tree trunks. He’d rescued some, but when we got there, two were hiding under a tree trunk, two were relatively safe in their toppled cage and two were inaccessible in their pins and trapped under wood and metal.
After earning his trust, my husband, a sweet young pregnant volunteer and I got to work. My husband made quick work of the limbs with his chainsaw and our new friend and I started clearing other parts of the yard until we could start reaching the bunnies.
The homeowner gave us very specific instructions on how to pick them up without hurting ourselves.
The EMA worker arranged for dog crates to come from Columbus to be temporary housing for the bunnies once we rescued them.
By the time it was time for us to leave, we’d gotten the two trapped bunnies free and we captured one of the loose ones.
That tornado left a spotty, ugly mark on this town. It’s the kind of inexplicable trauma that makes you angry because there was nothing anyone could have done about it. But anger didn’t live in Talbotton that Thursday. People weren’t angry; they were too busy for anger. There was a small army of volunteers working on homes and organizing donations. There was no anger, just good people and work to be done.
Kristen Reed is 11Alive's Managing Editor of Digital Content
HOW TO HELP TALBOTTON
Talbotton has a small army of volunteers sorting through the donations. The volunteer coordinators said there are a few items they could use more of:
- Laundry detergent
- Dish detergent
- Electrolyte drinks
The priority is clearing trees so anyone with a chainsaw is welcome to volunteer. Here is the contact information:
Phone: (706) 938-4184