Saturday, March 19, 2016

The Aftermath: Louisville Tornado 2014


"This is where Sam and I saw the dead man's body." When he said those words yesterday, I thought I'd heard my brother-in-law wrong. He repeated them. No. I'd heard right. 

Those weren't the words of a terrific hook line in the opening of a book (although I plan to use them for that very thing). My brother-in-law was remembering his experience as a first responder. 

After the F-4 tornado roared through Louisville, MS, population 6,463, on April 28, 2014, life changed dramatically for their citizens. At least ten people were killed. Many more were injured. Homes weren't just damaged. They were completely leveled. People were picked up by the tornado and literally tossed through the air to land not just a few feet away, but a few streets away.

My family volunteered in Louisville after the tornado. My sister picked up debris in what was left of the yards of homes that were completely destroyed. My niece and her daughters helped sort the mountain of supplies that were donated. 

I sat inside a tent and dispatched volunteers. I helped fray the frazzled nerves of volunteers who'd had too little sleep and too much junk food since their arrival. I hugged those who'd come for help. I politely bossed people around.

My nephew and my brother-in-law were there as first responders. They expected to cut trees and clear roads. They did that, but first they helped those who were injured. A triage team had gone through to locate the bodies of the dead and near-dead and identify those wounded who needed emergency care. 

They carried the ones most in need of medical care (by hand) on backboards to the first clear road. Vehicles waited to transport them the rest of the way, either to the morgue or to treatment in a make-shift medical relief area. They had a tent soon, but at the first, emergency care was done in the open air.

We drove past a row of school buses in Louisville yesterday and Joe, my brother-in-law, said, "All the windows were blown out. Glass was everywhere. People with eyes gouged out. People with broken arms. Bloody heads." 

At first, I thought he meant people had taken refuge in the bus and had been hit by the tornado. He didn't. 

There were too many injured for individual ambulance transport and the hospital had been destroyed. (I write this and realize that the ambulances may have been destroyed, too.) The roads were blocked by trees and debris, and emergency vehicles couldn't get into the area. 

A damaged school bus was used to transport the wounded because it was all they had.

It was horrifying at the time. When we toured the damaged areas yesterday, I realized it's still horrifying. 

This town of 6,900 people has done a fabulous job of recovery. A new hospital is almost finished. The local pulpwood industry is being rebuilt. Many homes have been repaired, restored, rebuilt. They still have community gatherings, honor their veterans, teach their children.

However, there were many empty slabs where homes once stood. There are still piles of debris on now-empty lots. Debris still dangles from a few trees. Broken tree stumps still stand as silent reminders of the utter devastation that can happen in a matter of minutes and take decades to overcome.

On April 30, 2014, there was so much devastation that I couldn't take it in. I saw the big picture, but, for the most part, I missed the one-person-at-a-time devastation the storm had left behind. 

Yesterday, I finally got it.

One family after another was completely missing from their neighborhood because they had not been able to rebuild. 

A dead man was found here. A severely injured woman was found there. The man with a broken arm was transported here. 

I saw the storm through my brother-in-law's eyes and it chilled me to the bone. Lives will never be the same. Never.

I hate to admit this, but I'd forgotten about Louisville. I'd forgotten about their losses. I'd forgotten about their sorrow. I'd forgotten about their needs.

I remember now.

We never know when tragedy may hit our own lives. What matters most is to be prepared for eternity. Having our possessions safe will not matter a bit if we meet our Maker without our eternal destination secured. 

Following Jesus is not a Sunday Social Club. Following Jesus is a 24-7-365 walk that can carry us through anything that comes our way.

The aftermath of life's storms (not just tornadoes) can last for decades. It's up to those of us on the outside of the storms to offer whatever help we can. For as long as it's needed. 

Despite the devastation, hope reigned in the little town of Louisville. Their downtown is bustling. There is a sense of optimism that is obvious from the moment you drive into their town. 

Their website explains why. Mayor Hill writes that they are "abundantly blessed" and "Louisville is the place where people make the difference." 

He's right. Tin, and wood, and stone will pass away, but the hearts of their people will last for eternity. And that's what matters most.

"Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed... Death is swallowed up in victory..." 
1 Corinthians 15: 51-52, 54 nasb

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