Thursday, April 3, 2008

* The Tornado of 1973

Thirty Five years ago today my family and all the people in Marion County's lives were forever changed. We were in revival in Winfield with Rev. Van Dale Hudson when the power went off, we were quickly told that a Tornado had hit all around us and we quickly made our way to the alter for prayer before being dismissed. Until this night I had never heard the word Tornado. My dad drove the church bus and we still had to take people home. We were also told that our home place was probably not going to be there when we arrived home( we lived in Brilliant, Al) about 10 miles from Winfield (the city). The closer we drove up the Mt. to our home there was a silence I will never forget, we had the windows down on the bus and you just knew something was about to change your life forever, there were no lights from the homes that use to be along the road, but there were sparks from homes burning or you would see power lines in the roads sparking off fire. I remember me, my brother and sister being so scared thinking we were going to be fried because there were so many live power lines down and daddy couldn't see them until you were on them unless a spark would flash from them, I thought we would never reach the top of our mountain. Words could have never prepared us for what lay before us. As we reached the top of the Mt. we could hear screams, our first neighbors at the stop sign before turning to our Overton road were Buster & Wilma Westbrooks, Buster was a blind man and Wilma had a speech problem and most people could not understand a world she said. There was fire popping all over the road, my dad stopped the big yellow bus and warned us not to moved or we could be killed from the power lines in the road. Now our Mt. was in the middle of no where so without light it was pitch black dark. We begged daddy not to leave us but all he could think of was his own mom and dad around the corner. The Westbrooks were calling out for help, I will never forget those screams begging Jesus for help. Daddy was gone for what seemed like forever, time stood still. As I remember this as a adult it was much like a movie you would see today. While waiting on daddy to come back and tell us what he found, church members started coming up the Mt. to check on us. I will never forget Earl & Sharon Elliott taking us in that night and keeping us until our home was repaired. The men from church brought flash lights and started off to find daddy and to help with what lay ahead. Our road consisted of my grandparents, daddy's brothers family, the Westbrooks family, his son's family and Wilbur Westbrooks (Buster's brother). When daddy got to Buster & Wilma they were still sitting on their living room couch but there was no house, everything was gone but the two of them sitting safely on the couch praying and crying to God for help. The scene was much the same as they made their way to our family. Everyone on our Mt. seemed to have made it with only cuts and scrapes. There were no warnings and no storm cellars to hide in, the Tornado came from nowhere. One by one daddy's family were all accounted for. Daddy went to our home to see what the damaged was but because of the time ( somewhere around 9 or10 pm) it would have to wait till morning, there were no light to see. After what seemed like hours we were taken back to Winfield with the Elliott's and put to bed. Everyone on the Mt. refused to leave what was left of their homes so Dad stayed with them though the night. The next morning we were taken back to the Mt. to see what the damage was, and what a horrible sight we saw all the way and it went from one end of the county to the next. The Westbrooks home was gone, only the couch they were sitting on was left. The trees looked as if they had been flatted, just gone, if there were any trees standing they were full of debris, there were cars in trees, clothes in trees, houses in trees, I remember finding things in our yard that belong to people in other city or from miles away. My gran parents home was completely moved from the foundation it looked like a slanted, crooked house, the roof was gone. My Uncle's home gone. As a young girl I think this is the worst thing til this day I have ever seen. As we get to our house it look like the Tornado just skipped over us, we did have roof damage and small things damaged but nothing that we could not fix, we were all without power and water because our water was from the well that needed power to pump it to the house. I was taught a very powerful lesson that night, because out of all these homes and families our family were the only church goers on the Mt. my daddy's family did not go to church at this time and we were thought of as being strange because we were at church in the middle of the week for seven straight days (needless to say a lot of people started church after this). We were spared the ordeal of going though such a powerful Storm because we were at church in the only town that was spared for miles. We were later told of how many (hundreds) were dead, the funeral homes were so packed the bodies were coffin to coffin, many having to wait until coffins could be shipped in. Many families lost the entire family, lakes had to be drain looking for bodies, our county was much like a war zone, our schools were gone, our lives were suddenly changed forever, the scars would be with us forever. Suddenly our churches were being full! The biggest change I can remember was everyone would build storm cellars, our cellar would have a living room with a heater, complete with all the things you would need to live on, we even had T.V. , it would sleep all the people on our hill, I think it would hold around 50 people. Each day for what seemed like forever we would go though our day, do chores, homework, eat, bathe and then to the cellar to sleep. We were so afraid of being caught off guard it became our home, our Haven of rest. If it rain we were in the cellar, we also learned that once a Tornado made a path it would come back again and again, and it did time and time again, we learned to listen for sounds mostly like a train, watch the sky and you could feel the Tornado's, the air goes from nice to sticky and mug feeling. We lived on the hill for four more years dreading the spring months until daddy built our home in Winfield, that seemed to be far enough out of the Tornado's path. Our new home one be completely under ground with a cellar way back in the ground and it would have three bedrooms and a living room on top of the ground. Although we did not go through the 73" Tornado, we went through enough Tornadoes that you never forget that fear of being completely out of control and only in the arms of Jesus. I thank the Lord my daddy was a church going man and had his family in church that night, April 3 1973. Our lives were spared and I know many could say the storm just played out before it took our house, but I believe we were shelter in the arms of God. I was only eleven but I remember it like it was yesterday and will never forget how in only moments your life can be changed forever. Thank you Lord for giving me many more years with my grandparents and sparing our lives on April 3, 1973.

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