If You Could Walk the Trail of Destruction

Friday, March 30, 2007

At approximately noon on March 1, 2007, life in Enterprise, Alabama took a devastating turn. Weather alerts for the area anticipated bad weather systems approaching sometime close to 5 p.m. Based on these estimates local officials were in the process of scheduling a gradual shut down of the city for early afternoon.

[Photo 1: Officer Cindy Dunaway]
Officer Cindy Dunaway was in the school when the tornado hit Enterprise High School and witnessed the madness of the school's destruction first-hand. She says it is an experience she will never forget, and one that still feels very much like a bad dream.

Officer Cindy Dunaway was on duty as a D.A.R.E. Officer at Enterprise High School as the storm approached. She had talked to her brother moments earlier advising him that he should come to the school to pick up his daughter soon, as students were being released early. As she turned to walk back into the school she noticed the sky turning dark, and could hear a strange rumbling in the background. She realized in that moment that something terrible was about to happen and began to desperately try to get students inside the building and into interior hallways where they would at least be safer.

The moments that followed were maddening. The sky went completely dark, the rumbling sound grew into a roar, her head felt an incredible sense of pressure building, and finally in a moment she will never forget, she could see and feel the walls collapsing around her. As she heard the screams of the students over the roar of the storm she feared that everyone there would die. In fact, eight students suffered fatal injuries and countless others had less severed injuries. As the first officer on the scene, her instincts and her training took over and she struggled to help rescue students from the rubble.

[Photo 2: Section of the school with the walls collapsed and the roof ripped off] [Photo 3: Remains of the school's auto shop department] [Photo 4: Damage to the school's roof]
These pictures give just a glimpse into the nightmare that occurred at Enterprise High School. The picture on the left shows a section of the school with the walls collapsed and the roof ripped off. The second picture shows what remains of the school's auto shop department. The final picture shows some of the damage to the school's roof.

The trail of destruction for Enterprise only began at Enterprise High School. From the school the trail of destruction jumped over into adjacent residential areas. The pictures below were taken days after the storm touched down. While these pictures show devastation, they don't begin to capture the scene in the moments after the madness. Residents describe a scene similar to that at the high school. They speak of the sky growing dark, followed by this incredible rumbling sound and then a feeling your house was being pulled apart. In the moments after the storm touched down the entire town had the strong smell of pine from the number of pine trees downed by the storm. Across the city, trees were down everywhere. Some houses were literally smothered in debris. This story is also the story of how, in days, residents and volunteers stepped in and began the process of cutting up trees and piling them in public roadways for removal.

[Photo 5: Blue tarp covering the roof of home] [Photo 6: Home suffered extensive damage including a partial collapse of its roof] [Photo 7: U.S. flag over the damaged property]
These pictures offer just a glimpse into the destruction of homes in the Enterprise community as the result of the March 1, 2007 storm. The blue tarp covering the roof of the first home is typical of storm-damaged homes in the area. The second home pictured suffered extensive damage including a partial collapse of its roof. The third pictures exemplifies the spirit of the citizens of Enterprise, Alabama, as the owner proudly displays a U.S. flag over the damaged property.

Officials estimate that 569 homes were damaged by the storm. Of those, 236 were completely destroyed; 121 suffered major damage; 140 received minor damage and 99 were somewhat affected. One elderly resident lost her life because of injuries she suffered, caused by the damage to her home. But, as noted earlier, the more time one spent in Enterprise after the storm, the more you realized that the destruction caused by the storm was not even in the real story. The real story is the way in which the power of human will and human compassion met the destructive aftermath of the storm and prevailed.

Within hours after the storm had moved on to raise havoc in Americus, Georgia the Enterprise community began the process of rebuilding. The City of Enterprise quickly set up a volunteer service coordinating facility in a local church and within the first 24 hours after the storm, had procedures in place to register volunteers and identify what services or goods they wished to provide. The same center also took information from residents in need of help and filed the information on request forms in the order in which they were received. The cards with volunteer information were then matched against the cards with the needs of residents and volunteers were dispatched in an orderly manner from one location. It sounds simple enough, but the experience of seeing the outpouring of offers of help from volunteers and the gratitude expressed by those receiving help was as heartwarming an experience as one will ever know.

[Photo 8: Tara Emmit and Carolyn Sutley] [Photo 9: Heather Seymoor and Marcia Stark] [Photo 10: Group picture]
Tara Emmit, Special Projects Coordinator for Enterprise Mayor Kenneth Boswell, was instrumental in helping set up and coordinate Enterprise Recovery Plan. Carolyn Sutley, pictured with her in the first image, discusses the condition of Enterprise Housing Authority property and residents. In the second image Heather Seymoor, Volunteer Center Director and Marcia Stark, Center Volunteer point out areas of concentrated destruction, where volunteers will be working to remove trees and other debris. In the final picture a group of soldiers from Fort Rucker prepare to go out on volunteer mission to remove trees from a residential property. Pictured below, members of Boy Scout Troop 77 work to help elderly property owner, Mrs. Lucy Pierson cleans up debris from her property. In the first picture we see Mr. Pierson with the Scoutmaster of Troop 77, Mr. Chip Quisenberry. The second pictures shows the scouts and family members that worked to remove trees and debris from property. In the third picture a parent of one of the scouts cuts trees in Mrs. Pierson's back yard. Troop 77 is sponsored by 1st Baptist Church of Enterprise.
[Photo 11: Blue tarp covering the roof of  home] [Photo 12: Scouts and family members that worked to remove trees and debris from property] [Photo 13: A parent of one of the scouts cutting trees]

The Boy Scout Troop pictured above is but a small example of the presence of faith organizations in the recovery efforts in Enterprise. Pastor James Powell of Straight Paths Independent Church was just one of the pastors and Church congregations providing service in Enterprise, in the aftermath of the storm. His Church which is located just outside Enterprise partnered with Anchor Baptist Missions out of North Carolina to provide two feeding and water stations, as well as a station that distributes free clothes. Pictured below are some of the faith organizations providing service in Enterprise along with the Red Cross.

[Photo 14: Red Cross volunteers distribute replacement clothing from local churches] [Photo 15: Pastor James Powell] [Photo 16: Group picture]
Red Cross volunteers distribute replacement clothing from local churches in first picture. In second picture, Pastor James Powell of Straight Paths Independent Church talks about why his church is providing feeding stations and clothing stations in Enterprise to assist those in need. In the third picture we see K9 Chaplain Georgie and friend, two golden retrievers that have been trained to provide comfort to persons in distress. Also pictured with Chaplain Georgie are her handler, and members of church communities in Biloxi, MS and Slidell, LA, who came to Enterprise to offer assistance in appreciation for assistance they received after Hurricane Katrina.
[Photo 17: Disaster relief supplies] [Photo 18: Anchor Baptist Missions truck] [Photo 19: Alabama Baptist State Convention truck]

There is no denying the awesomeness of the destruction caused by the storm of March 1, 2007, in the Enterprise community. The total destruction of Enterprise High School along with the eight lives lost there; the 569 homes damaged, the extensive damage to the areas infrastructure are well documented. But as noted earlier the destruction is but a part of this heartwarming story. As one talked with residents of the area, one becomes impressed with two things. First you walk away impressed with the magnitude of the caring in the community for the eight students whose lives were lost, and for the other students who are going throug the confusion of burying friends and having their whole world turned upside down. The first priority for everyone with whom you speak is to make sure the kids are okay. School officials have already made arrangements to begin school again in the near future, with a local community college agreeing to share their space so the school year could continue. Coach Kevin Collins, the head football coach at Enterprise High School has his team busy moving their equipment to a temporary location so that their offseason weight training program can continue. It is impressive to see the way his team follows his instructions without question as they move their equipment from the school's partially destroyed gym to a truck that will carry it to their temporary location. The coach in typically understated southern fashion, simply says that right now the best thing for the kids is to keep them busy, so they don't wind up getting in trouble just because they have nothing to do. Secondly, you walk away feeling confident that if one visits Enterprise as soon as a few weeks from now, one will see the results of compassionate people in the wake of awful destruction.

HUD's Alabama Field Office has worked to assess damage to the housing stock for the community, provided information on vacancies in HUD supported housing that could be used to house families that are in need of temporary housing. HUD staff is working with FEMA to coordinate delivery of relief assistance, and Birmingham Field Office staff will continue to work with State Officials on the HUD programs to assist in recovery.

If you would like to help the citizens of the Enterprise Community in their recovery efforts you may call the City of Enterprise at (334) 348-2603.

Content Archived: September 09, 2009