On March 3, 2019, an EF4 tornado took the lives of 23 people and injured 90 as it traveled nearly 27 miles through parts of Macon and Lee counties. On Tuesday, exactly one year later, the community gathered inside the Smiths Station Government Center to hold a minute of silence and reflect on the storm that wreaked havoc.
The minute of silence began at 2:03 p.m. — the exact time that the tornado hit Smiths Station last year.
According to the National Weather Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Storm Prediction Center, the tornado was the deadliest single tornado in the state since the tornado outbreak in 2011, when three separate tornadoes ripped through Alabama.
The 2019 tornado ranks as the eighth-deadliest tornado in Alabama history since 1950, which is when the NWS began to keep fatality records.
Different communities throughout Lee County were in attendance for Tuesday afternoon’s minute of silence.
“That’s the part that amazed me,” said Gary Long, a resident of Smiths Station. “The people that showed up that Sunday evening to start doing things for their neighbors, for just anybody.”
East Alabama Medical Center saw over 68 people come in that Sunday night in 2019, according to Laura Eason, a chaplain at EAMC who also serves as the chair for Mend, a long-term recovery service for those affected by the tornado.
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“We’ve built over 30 homes right now with our partners,” Eason said. “‘Rebuilding Lee County one life at a time.’ That’s kind of our tagline.”
Several stores that were not destroyed in the tornado were ready to pitch in. Chris Allison, an operations manager at Home Depot in Phenix City, spoke with Smiths Station Communications Director Lisa Deason and Mayor Bubba Copeland about how to help.
“We saw the devastations from everyone else, and we just felt that it was our part to help our community,” Allison said. “The leadership here within the city itself, you can’t replace it.”
It’s been over a year since the tornado struck Smiths Station, but the impact the tornado had on the community still rests heavily in the hearts of its residents.
“The outpouring from the community was incredible,” Long said. “As sad as some of it was, that’s the part that gives me chills.”
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