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franklin county times

A reporter's perspective:
Past experience shows Newton will recover

By By Fredie Carmichael / staff writer
Dec. 22, 2002
NEWTON Stuck in traffic about a mile away the destruction here in downtown Newton, the memories came flooding back.
Nearly 11 years had passed, but I still remembered it like it was yesterday. It was March 10, 1992, around 1 a.m. in south Lauderdale County.
In a matter of minutes, a deadly tornado swept through the neighborhood and my family's two-story brick home was gone. Poof. Nothing left but the concrete slab of our front porch.
Everyone inside my house including my father, my mother, my sister, a friend of mine that was spending the night, and myself survived with minor injuries.
As the sun rose the next day, I remembered seeing insulation hanging from the trees, mud splattered over my belongings, and lines of trees that looked like broken toothpicks.
I remembered the sound of volunteers using chain saws to cut fallen trees, the smell of the fresh coffee brewing from the parked Salvation Army van, and the feel of the warm hugs from all of my neighbors trying to comfort me.
Another storm
Fast-forward to this past Thursday.
As our photographer, Paula Merritt, and I tried to make our way through the traffic, we were guided by officers through the back roads of Newton.
That's where we got our first glimpse of the destruction. Trees uprooted and snapped in half. Homes without a roof. It all looked the same as 1992, only in a different place at a different time.
As we made our way through the muddy roads trying to find Wal-Mart, we made it to a house at 208 Old Hickory Road.
That's where we met Jason Boyd.
Jason is a typical Mississippi teen-ager, ever polite and answering with a "Yes sir" or "No sir." At age 17, he has lived in this small city for nearly his whole life.
Wearing camouflage rubber boots, a nylon jacket and a dingy Mississippi State University baseball cap, Jason was affectionately called our "Newton tour guide" by Paula and me the rest of the day.
From Jason's backyard, in back of the house in which he lives with his grandmother, you could see Wal-Mart, the Sonic Drive-In and everything in the Northside Plaza all mangled by the twister.
War zone
Staring down that hill through those splintered trees was like looking at a war zone. A handful of helicopters whizzed overhead and emergency crews were everywhere.
I looked at Jason.
And off we went, down the muddy, red clay hills, trying to get a first-hand glimpse of the destruction.
By this time, other members of the media tagged along behind us. Jason led the way on the mile-long trek through the woods, cutting through trails between the freshly fallen pines.
As we made our way down the hill, I learned a little more about Jason and what the tornado's destruction meant to him.
Jason is a senior at Newton County Academy. He had just taken a final exam on general business at school and returned home for lunch before the twister hit.
Extensive damage
But that didn't seem to matter now. His town, his downtown hangouts, his skating rink, his Wal-Mart, his restaurants, his family's 20 acres of land all were severely damaged.
His life had been changed hours earlier, seven days before Christmas. And through all of this, he was taking his time and energy to guide me and the others to the scene of the action.
After we reached the Wal-Mart parking lot, I interviewed a few people and quickly lost sight of Jason.
About an hour later, as Paula and I headed back up the hill, we looked around for our "Newton tour guide" to help us find our way back. But he was no where to be found.
That made our trip back a little more adventurous.
It took us about 30 minutes to reach the top and by the time we did, Paula was covered from head-to-toe in mud and I had mud caked on my feet and legs.
Both of us were exhausted. We looked around for Jason, but he was off helping his neighbors cut trees and find their belongings.
I never had a chance to say "thank you."
Happy ending
So with that, I'll end by giving you a happy ending to my personal experience with tornadoes.
The few days that followed the tornado of 1992 were hard. But the people around us made them bearable.
People from our church, our school and our community chipped in to help us find what we could salvage.
Both my parents found their wedding rings one in the crumpled-up carpet and the other on a tree branch.
My sister, a college student, was upstairs when the twister hit. Her new car and most everything in her room were all destroyed. But I was just happy to have a big sister.
The bed in which she was sound asleep just seconds before the tornado hit was smashed against the bank behind our house.
She survived with minor cuts and bruises, including glass embedded in her back. But she was alive.
As for me, I had just celebrated my 12th birthday the day before the tornado. Most all of my presents were destroyed, including about $100 in cash I received at my party the day before.
Widespread debris
I remember thinking how long it would take to clean up the mess the tornado left behind.
Today, nearly 11 years later, I look back at all the blessings I have.
I see where my parents built an even bigger house back in that same location on my family's many acres of land.
I see my sister's two children, my niece and nephew. I see my dad, a successful state legislator, and my mom, a caring third-grade teacher, mother and grandmother.
I see the birthdays, the graduations, the marriages, the days at church, the good family times.
I lost a lot that day, but I realize now how material those things were.
So I guess my message to Jason and the many of others who lost so much on Thursday here in Newton, is this: Things will get better.
I'm living proof.