By Loretta Gillespie
The Cullman Times
On April 27, a series of tornadoes roared through Cullman County, leaving in their wake an astonishing path of destruction half-a-mile wide and 26 miles long. Wind speeds of 120 mph were recorded. The funnel cloud moved relentlessly toward the city center as people raced to get out of harm’s way. As it approached the Channel 33/40 Sky Cam atop the water tower, it grew in intensity and looked like a black vortex bearing down on the most populated area in Cullman. Many historic buildings, businesses and homes were destroyed or damaged beyond repair. Ancient trees that had always given the city its air of Southern charm now lay strewn like matchsticks for miles around, changing the landscape forever. Yet even while standing amid the rubble, people resolved to rebuild this community. They paused only long enough to say a prayer, and then they began to show the world what Cullman County is capable of.
Across the breadth and width of Cullman County, from Eva, Fairview and Vinemont to Berlin, Welti, Shelton Grove and Cold Springs, from West Point to Dodge City, along the beautiful shores of Smith Lake and every little community in between, if you weren't hit by the tornado, then you know someone who was. In each and every one of these communities, there are good hard-working people who either lost their homes, or reached out to help someone who lost everything. In times like those we find out who walks the walk and who just talks the talk. Those are the people who ask for no recognition, who do it for no compensation or self-aggrandizement — they just help because it's the right thing to do.
The twisters may have rearranged the landscape, and although sadly, there were two precious lives lost in the county, they did not claim one single life in the city of Cullman, nor did they take away the driving force of this community — its people. Farmers, business owners, students, teachers, municipal workers, church groups and a multitude of volunteers from all walks of life have joined in the cleanup efforts, showing the true nature of the residents who make Cullman County such a wonderful place to live, work and play. Against seemingly overwhelming odds, these valiant people joined hands to give each other strength, took time to pray, and then began picking up the pieces, one brick and one board at a time.
Through this tragedy we’ve all learned important lessons. The Oklahoma tornodoes have served as a grim reminder that houses, vehicles and trees are fleeting things in the path of nature’s wrath. What is indestructible is the resilient spirit of the people of Cullman County who are still going about the business of restoring their lives.
In just a few short days they accomplished more than anyone thought possible: Streets that were impassable began to bustle with traffic; power, water, gas, cable and telephone lines were repaired and people began to plan the rebuilding and reinvestment in their community. As the sound of chainsaws filled the air, volunteers made their way from distant cities to lend a hand, and even children did their part in helping to bring order to the chaos of the storm’s aftermath.
What makes a community so strong? What gives people such strength and resolve in the face of destruction? Quite simply, it is their faith in God, and in knowing and doing the right thing. It is in their determination not to give up, and in their powerful tie to the land, their farms, families and neighbors, their trust and mutual respect for one another and for their heritage. Cullman came back stronger than ever.
There is an elemental sense of decency and human kindness in this extraordinary place. It comes to the forefront in times like this, but in truth it was here even before this tragedy — and it will be here long after the last brick has been replaced. The cornerstone of Cullman’s faith and community pride cannot be blown away, bulldozed under or plastered over. The heartbeat of Cullman County is steadfast, its legacy lives on, and its future is assured. The dauntless determination of this community will forever make it a place that people admire, respect and remember. This is Cullman County; its continuing triumph over adversity is already an inspiration to the human spirit, and an uplifting example to all who have faced tragedy of a magnitude such as this. What you see happening here is an awakening of the knowledge that we are, indeed, all in this together.
The tornado in Oklahoma City took a larger toll in human life than did Cullman County, Alabama, and the thought that it could strike here again brings with it the dawning realization that this could have just as easily be any town, any neighbors, any family — Anywhere, U.S.A.
Cullman Countians know what it's like to share their load and it just fills the heart to overflowing by the show of support from people everywhere during our crisis. This has become an opportunity to celebrate the fact that often times the worst circumstances bring out the very best in people.