Ivan#039;s worst brings out our best

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 14, 2004

"Worse than Opal." "Worst ever." That was the common theme I heard Thursday night and Friday as I precariously made my way around town to see the devastation that Hurricane Ivan wreaked on the Camellia City.

As I meandered through the streets talking to people the look in their eyes was one of disbelief. It was a hollow, slack jawed look as they tried to wrap their brains around what had just happened, wondering when they were going to wake up from the nightmare they were living.

Throughout the city the damage was extensive, but I had no idea of the magnitude of the hit Greenville has sustained until I toured the city with Mayor Dexter McLendon in a helicopter graciously provided by Pioneer Electric.

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I had been through tornados and floods before but never had I seen Mother Nature more ill tempered than what I saw from 500 feet above the city. The damage was unfathomable. As my camera clicked away; through the viewfinder I saw images of trees on houses, trees in houses, power lines down everywhere. It was if God had taken his hand and attempted to wipe the slate clean. It was surreal.

Some areas of the city were harder hit than others. One of the worst was the Country Club Drive area where it seemed that every other house had damage from falling trees.

"Those little boys are okay and that's all that matters," Angela Mosley told me, standing in the front yard of her Country Club Drive home, a massive oak tree resting comfortably on her house.

Mosley, like many other Greenvillians, had taken refuge with family elsewhere and wasn't home when Ivan dropped a tree on her house, possibly sparing her life and that of her children.

Mosley's story was a common theme among many. Being in the right place at the wrong time. Surviving the storm because they left their houses or simply changed rooms before trees turned their homes into a big shish kebab.

Divine intervention? Only one person knows the answer to that, but I'd say it was a miracle that nobody was seriously injured in the worst natural disaster Butler County has ever had.

The aftermath of Ivan has spawned a hurricane of questions. Where is the Red Cross? Why was the state and federal governments so slow to respond to our area? What are we going to do to be better prepared next time something like this happens?

As Jay Thomas, our managing editor, said to me Monday, "People in this town are suffering." He said that after interviewing a mother who had to feed her children chicken broth because all the food in her freezer had spoiled and she had no money to buy more.

Yes, people are suffering and they will continue to suffer until they get some help. Luckily they live in a community that helps each other out in difficult times, which is evident by the many examples of neighbors helping neighbors or neighbors helping strangers, thereby abating the suffering, at least a little bit, until things return to normal.

Along with the questions and criticisms there are many stories of heroes and good deeds. While many were without power for days and some still remain without power, I don't think anyone can say that Alabama Power and Pioneer Electric have not gone to extreme steps to get people's power back, a daunting task when you consider nearly the entire county went dark during the height of the storm.

While many curse them during brief outages, these men and women braved the elements to attempt to restore some sense of normalcy and comfort to those in need. Heroes? Many may differ, but I say yes.

Others who deserve praise are the city and county workers who doggedly worked double and triple shifts to keep the infrastructure of the city and county alive, many of them ignoring their own personal property damage instead focusing on that of others. While most would tell you they were just doing their job, there's more to it than that and we all know it.

By the way, the mother who lacked food for her children now has her cupboards stocked and her children's stomachs full, compliments of a stranger who decided to get involved in a story rather than just report on it.

Yes, heroes come in all shapes and sizes and I thank God for them.

Dennis Palmer is publisher of The Greenville Advocate. He can be reached at 382-3111 or by email: dennis.palmer@greenvilleadvocate.com.