342 Dead Across the South....250 Killed in Alabama Alone!
By: Varion Walton
(Harvest, Ala.)—4 days in and it’s still difficult to wrap your mind around the unbelievable amount of damage and devastation. I traveled to some of the hardest hit areas in Central and North Alabama to hear the stories of survival and heartbreaking tragedies first hand.
My first stop was Harvest, Alabama a small town just east of Huntsville heavily damaged by the storm. What I saw was beyond my worst fears! Entire subdivisions flattened. What used to be homes now appear to be simply piles of wooden matchsticks. Huge trees have fallen, cars are scattered all over the place.
The worst image was the pile of mangled mess which used to be Eva Ragland’s home. The only thing left standing is the steps leading to what used to be her front door. Beyond that is the concrete foundation for a home that is no longer there.
I witnessed the elderly Harvest woman literally picking up the pieces of her life! Everything she owned was either destroyed or reduced to a pile of rubble. I found her sifting through broken glass, rain and mud soaked furniture, desperately trying to salvage many of her priceless possessions.
She appeared physically exhausted, wearing a dark blue skull cap, blue jeans and a tattered sweat shirt. Ms. Ragland recalled those horrifying moments the day before when she was terrorized by the killer tornado! “It got real dark and then I heard a whistling noise.” The wind started picking up and it sounded like something was scratching at the walls,” recalled Ragland.
“I looked out the door and the wind had thrown my truck 600 feet. It landed in my neighbor’s yard three houses over. That’s when I knew it was too late for me to leave home,” recalled Ragland. When I was running through the house the wood on my kitchen floor started separating. It looked more like someone was playing an accordion. When I finally made it to the bathtub I just fell to my knees and started praying,” Ragland said.
Her home of 26 years was no match for the 200 mph winds which cut a path of destruction across North Alabama; killing hundreds, destroying lives and property. What took her nearly a life-time to build was destroyed in mere seconds. The house completely collapsed around her, but, in the aftermath and recovery Eva Ragland is still counting her blessings. She lost her home, but not her life! “I’m still here”, proclaimed Ragland. “I’ve been through tornadoes in this house before, but this time I can truly tell the world I’m a survivor. I’ve lost everything, my car, my house, but I still have my life. Even during those frightening moments I just knew God was going to take care of me. It shook my house, but nothing will ever shake my faith and belief in God, I’m still blessed I tell you, I’m still blessed,” exclaimed Ragland.
She’s not alone! Right now dozens of others are gladly sharing in the burden of recovery. Before the storm Eva Ragland and Patrick Neal were strangers. In fact, Neal lives on the other side of town. But the day after the storm he, his wife and children showed up with a trunk filled with ice coolers, bottled water and Power Aid trying to be good neighbors. “We just felt so helpless sitting at home and I wanted to do something to help those who have lost everything,” said Neal.
“Right now we’re struggling with no electricity on the other side of town, but we’re definitely in this thing together,” said Neal. If bottled water or Power Aid can help boost somebody’s spirits it’s the least we can do. “We’re here to give them a shoulder to cry on, a sympathetic ear or simply to pray with and for them. We’re all in this together. My house was spared this time, but who is to say someday she might have to do the same for me someday. We’re all in this together,” Neal said. Meantime, Eva Ragland says she’s simply grateful for her good neighbors. “I thank God for my neighbors and friends. I’m blessed to be surrounded by such caring people,” Ragland said.
Strangers no more, they are storm victims and survivors working together on a mission of relief and recovery, one day at a time.