It was a Sunday afternoon.
Church-goers were still relaxing after a morning of worship, lunch was enjoyed, and naptime was calling for some while others wondered if they could cheat the threat of rain and enjoy an early sample of the springtime temperatures sure to come soon.
Instead, in the skies above central Alabama, a monster began to take its shape – twisting, turning, growing angrier by the minute, and finally looking for a place to thrust itself to the ground and consume with vengeance everything in its path.
And so it was on March 3, 2019, one year ago Tuesday.
Sunday’s edition of the Opelika-Auburn News kicked off a week of special storytelling and coverage paying respect and tribute to the 23 people killed, the almost 100 injured, dozens more survivors who struggled from the aftermath, and the countless number of first responders, volunteers, neighbors and friends who banded together to rescue and then rebuild two communities devastated by disaster.
Beauregard and Smiths Station were ground zero for the storm, but all of Lee County felt the impact and responded. Soon, help also started arriving from throughout the nation and even the globe.
There are far more stories than can be captured here in words and pictures this week.
However, we do share a few of them, including that of the Beauregard baseball team that carried its community on its back when a lift in spirit was most needed. But also involved were teams that include Beauregard’s greatest rivals in sports. Read about a rare show of unity among them.
There were first-responders who still recall the screams in the air, the people trapped under debris, and those they couldn’t save.
There were hospital personnel, called to action for a disaster of such that they had drilled in rehearsal, but quickly realized that the real thing was another matter as patients began arriving by the dozens in ambulances, cars, and the back of pickup trucks.
One nurse remembers getting home between 2 and 3 in the morning, and it was then that she finally was able to decompress.
“I remember lighting some candles, listening to some of the contemporary Christian music I like, pouring myself a glass of wine and just talking to God,” she said.
Many of us did a lot of talking with God during those days.
As we do today, a year later, in thanksgiving for what and who was saved, for how our overall community came together, and in memory of those we lost from our everyday lives here in Lee County.
Together, we became: Lee County Strong.
Troy Turner is editor of the Opelika-Auburn News. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @troyturnernews.