You cannot get used to seeing that kind of destruction — trees through windows, roads shut down, horrified looks on everyone’s face. This is not what you want to see in your community.
I saw the same things in Tuscaloosa in 2011 and in Tupelo in 2014. I assisted in relief efforts at both of those places but Saturday’s tornado destruction was different.
This is my town, my people, my community.
The first few hours were spent in shock as I avoided downed power wires, held my breath around open gas lines and tried to find a way to do my job without seeming like I was overwhelmed.
But to be honest, I was overwhelmed. And that does not happen very often.
I live less than a mile away from the majority of the damage in downtown Wetumpka and I never heard the tornado. I was shaken about how much worse it could have been for me.
After walking around some of the sites, I had to make it across the bridge to The Herald office.
I successfully made it to Green Street but then decided I had to go back across to the site of the worst destruction. On my walk back toward the bridge, I was stopped by a woman outside of one of the downtown shops.
She had a different attitude than I expected. Her smile was contagious and she could not stop pouring her thanks after hearing there were not any major injuries.
She recognized me from a Facebook Live video and told me to be safe as I continued to walk around town. Before I walked away, she thanked me for doing what I was doing and keeping everyone informed.
“What am I doing?”
That’s all I could think.
“There are thousands of people trying to get into the town to volunteer their services, and I haven’t cleaned up a single piece of debris.”
But that’s when it all clicked with me. I understood the true sense of community, and I saw every bit of it over the next 24 hours.
Everyone has a part to play to help the community recover, and that was clear this weekend. The first responders were leading the way but the number of individuals who walked into the worst areas was astounding.
There was never an individual working alone, and you couldn’t walk 20 yards without running into people offering you coffee or water.
From the outside, you may have thought Wetumpka was at its lowest points. But if you saw what I saw, you knew the community has never been more alive.
After having severe damage at its building, the First Baptist Church in Wetumpka held its services at the Civic Center on Sunday morning. Everyone has heard the following concept before but it resonated this weekend.
“You know Wetumpka First Baptist as a campus or a building,” FBC pastor Dr. James Troglen said. “But look around you. These people are what Wetumpka First Baptist is.”
That doesn’t just apply to churches; it can also be meant for a community. Businesses, homes and church buildings were all lost, but the community is still there.
The damage cannot be undone but it will not be the defining point of this recovery. The outpouring love and unity over the past few days already show this community will be back stronger.
As pictures and videos flew through social media over the weekend, one hashtag caught my eye: #We2Strong
Of course, I love a good pun but this one was more than that. This one made me believe. And so does this community.
Caleb Turrentine is a sports writer at The Wetumpka Herald and TPI.