In Smiths Station, tree trunks lie splintered on the ground as volunteers clear the debris still strewn across the dirt.
It’s been two weeks since an EF4 tornado terrorized this small city of about 5,000 residents. The assistance being displayed by friends and strangers, however, is replenishing the spirits of Caleb Killingsworth and his teenage son Andy Killingsworth, both of whom are residents, and now volunteers, in Smiths Station.
“It looks pretty bad out here, but it’s amazing to see how many people are helping out,” Caleb said.
He added it was “miraculous” their city didn’t have any deaths. When they saw the clouds spiraling on their way home from church, heard the sirens and felt the stillness in the air, they knew it was going to be bad.
“Thank God our home is OK,” Caleb said. “Others aren’t so lucky, so we thought we’d help out.”
In the volunteers’ building, where thousands have come to register, there are firefighters from Brooklyn, New York, and teachers from the local high school. For Andy, it’s a gathering of hopeful people.
“I saw my principal here the other day … and I saw a lot of classmates,” Andy said. “Everybody’s just trying to be in good spirits.”
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They hopped on a truck and drove around the damaged areas. It was their third day volunteering, but the devastation to property was still painfully evident. The tornado, Caleb said, spared nothing in its way.
“I’ve lived here all my life,” Caleb said. “I’ve never seen anything of this, you know, scale.”
A fleet of jeeps and pick-ups tracked through the windy road to the east of Smiths Station. Across the Rainbow Foods grocery store, they parked their vehicles to register, loaded up on supplies and went where their help was needed most.
Many, including Caleb and Andy, went to the backwaters in Smiths Station. The homes are mostly modular, and the trees that surround them had either wiped out portions of roofs or split homes in half like a knife. Rodney McBride lives near the backwater and had his whole roof blown off. Caleb and Andy had spent the prior day helping him out.
“We’re not family, but our faith brings us together,” Caleb said.
At another home down the road, a group of people from a local church had spent five hours picking up branches for an elderly resident. Robyn Lindsey was apart of this group, and she said people still need to find ways to help Lee County.
“It’s going to take a long time to get people back on their feet again,” Lindsey said.
She added that “nothing is too small or too big” in terms of helping the residents.
Joel Bartlett, a communications specialist for Alabama’s Emergency Management Agency, said people should still be motivated to assist the residents who were affected by the Lee County tornadoes.
“People should still be very much encouraged to come out and help anyway they can, absolutely,” Bartlett said.
As night approaches, the father and son hop on the truck and ease out of a road that’s been left a little cleaner than the day before. Caleb has to get his son to work; Andy has to rush back home to change for his shift at the drive-thru. Both, however, will be back — they hope others will, too.
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