Two years ago today, I was on the way to a routine doctor’s appointment. What met me when I arrived changed me, and my community, forever.
About 10 a.m. on Thursday March 1, 2007, I left my trailer in Troy and began the 45-minute drive to my doctor’s appointment in my hometown of Enterprise. I was cruising along, singing to the radio at a much louder volume than a person with my musical ability should be allowed to sing. Suddenly, the wind picked up. I thought nothing of it until about two minutes later when the annoying weather alert beep interrupted my award-winning performance.
The semi-robotic voice on the other side of the radio calmly let me know a tornado was headed my way, and assured me he would keep me updated on the situation. Immediately after the last syllable of the the mono-toned words had been uttered, the sky darkened. The wind began to howl, my tuck swayed violently, and it was all I could do to keep it on the road. Then the rains came. The sky let lose with a torrential downpour so steady that at times I could barely see the end of my headlight beams. The warning voice filled the cab of my truck once more, this time urging me to take cover in the nearest ditch. I was seriously considering complying with the advice when I looked to my right and saw a monstrous ebony cloud moving directly parallel to the road I occupied.
I did the only two things I knew to do in that situation.
I drove hard, and I prayed harder.
When, by the grace of God, I arrived in Enterprise, I made a beeline for my grandmother’s house. I stayed there until the weather cleared, which coincidentally happened just in time for me to keep my appointment. I got up to leave and was headed out the door when Mammaw told me she wanted drop me off at the door so I wouldn’t get wet. There was no changing her mind, so off we went. We arrived at the doctor’s office in downtown Enterprise just as another wave of rain began to fall. Mammaw dropped me off under the shelter, and I told her to park and sit in the waiting room in case the weather turned sour again, or the appointment took longer than I anticipated. She responded by telling me she’d have to stay in the car because her shoes were dirty, and insisted I go in without her.
I finished my appointment and was preparing to go when someone let out a scream and rushed in to the room, demanding the doctor and I take cover in the X-ray room down the hall. I ran down toward the room and looked to my right just as one of the exit doors imploded. Glass rained down on the floor. I looked out what was left of the shattered door and saw the biggest tornado I had ever seen.
I rushed into the X-ray room and ducked under the table, where several others huddled together, crying and praying.
Suddenly, the pressure dropped. The moment the huge funnel cloud came directly over us, I realized Mammaw was still outside in the car. Time seemed to slow to a crawl, but mere seconds later the twister had passed, leaving shattered windows, lights and door frames in its wake.
A few minutes later, Mammaw, followed by the nurse who retrieved her from the car, walked through the remnants of a door with a terrifying account of roofs ripped from buildings and thrown yards into the air. We walked out of the office and witnessed the fury of the gigantic, EF-5 tornado for the first time. Mammaw’s car remained in its parking spot, but was now surrounded by two fallen trees that landed inches away from it while she was still inside. Miraculously, not one piece of glass was broken.
When we were finally able to start home, I was able to see exactly how widespread the damage was. I had never seen anything like it. A massive tree blocked our path, and forced us to take a detour by the high school. There are no words to describe how I felt when I laid eyes on what was undoubtedly the cornerstone of our community.
Enterprise High School, which stood as a symbol of hometown pride at 500 East Watts Street for half a century, was laid waste in a pile of rubble.
I frantically dialed my cell phone to see if anyone had found my sister, who was in the science wing of the building when the storm hit.
Communication was impossible.
Two hours later, we arrived at Mammaw’s house, usually a five-minute drive from the doctor’s office. My Daddy arrived soon after, having retrieved my sister from the demolished school.
That day was the longest of my life.
Hours after the storm passed, we learned that eight of my sister’s schoolmates– two of which I had known for most of their lives — died in the storm along with Mrs. Edna Strickland.
In the days after the storm, the outpouring of generosity that was bestowed on the City of Progress was immeasurable. Strangers came from all over the country to offer a help in any way they could, and I am forever grateful to each and every one of them for the part they played in helping Enterprise back to its feet.
Today, two years later, Enterprise continues to rebuild. Two new schools are being constructed to replace the ones lost in the storm, and provide the courageous students of Hillcrest Elementary and Enterprise High Schools a suitable place to continue their educations.
Through the tragedy that struck our little town two years ago, the community came together with a resolve that has not faded, despite the passing of time. We have resolved to remember the nine friends and family members we lost that day, and cherish the memories we have with them for the rest of our lives.
We have resolved to comfort the families and friends of those nine and lift them up in prayer, and we have resolved to thank God for every moment He gives and every breath we take, for it is He who brought us where we are, and it is He who will continue to guide us as we look back in remembrance and forward in hopeful expectation.