Thursday, March 03, 2016

A view of home after the storm

CENTURY — We parked on Church Street and walked, viewing up close the recovery effort as locals repaired or salvaged what they could after an EF-3 tornado skipped through the town two weeks ago.

The buzz of distant chainsaws carving fallen trees carried on a light breeze, alongside the scent of wood dust and smoke. Debris was mounded in piles along the streets and in yards. Roofers replaced shingles and plywood on one house while heavy equipment left deep ruts in yards to shove fallen trees aside.

Trees still standing were coated in fiberglass flocking and sparkled with twisted vinyl and aluminum sheets. Blue and brown tarps draped the roofs of houses and public buildings, and plywood covered missing windows.

The view down Mayo to Front Street.
A stillness settled in, under warm sunshine and a cloudless blue sky.

I grew up in Century, and everywhere I looked last weekend, my memories collided with the devastation. Here was the place I went to high school. There, a shop I worked one summer. Over there, the hospital where my grandmother built her career. The church where I was baptized. The remains of a house my friend grew up in. The streets where we rode our bikes.

My cousin’s house. My aunt and uncle’s house. The Health Department. The pharmacy.

Some of them sustained only slight damage. Some were reduced to piles of kindling.

The Baptist church where we had parked showed little damage beyond some missing vinyl siding that exposed old tongue-and-groove wood walls and cracked paint on its bell tower. Pastor David Boyd greeted us in the gravel lot, explaining how the church was being used as a base of operations for volunteers from the First Baptist Church of Holt, who were helping to clean up and restore order in the area.

Century Methodist Church
“They’ve been over at the Blair house on Front Street this morning,” Boyd said. “Mr. Blair was at work when the tornado came, but his teenage kids were home. The wind picked up the house, moved it over 12 feet and set it down again. It’s a miracle nobody was hurt.”

Right next door, the 114-year-old Methodist church leaned precariously, having been shifted off its brick foundation pilings, bent and broken. Braces nailed against the exterior walls kept it from collapse until interior relics could be salvaged, as well as pews and stained glass windows. The future looked uncertain for the historic structure, built with the aid of the original lumber company that established the mill town in 1901.

As we walked back toward our car, a voice called out, “You hungry?”

Volunteers from Pineview, Ala.
A car and a pickup truck were stopped on the street, and people from the vehicles knocked on the doors of wood frame houses across from the churches. A man in a Red Sox ball cap repeated his call to us.

They were from Liberty Baptist Church in Pineview, he explained, a tiny community about 13 miles north in Alabama. They’d cooked 300 meals of smoked ribs and chicken, and gathered a carload of cleansers, paper supplies and other household needs that they were passing out.

“The Lord has led us to help these people out,” said Howard Hoomes. “We’re going door-to-door. Even the people that works, we want them to get free food.”

Pastor Boyd spoke with the group as they passed, thanking them for their gifts to the people struggling through the recovery. He clapped me on my shoulder and said, “Wouldn’t this make a good story?”

I nodded. Yes, it would.

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