Coping with catastrophe in Wren

By Colleen Conger

WREN – April 27, 2011 has become Monroe County’s day of infamy. It was the deadliest tornado outbreak in history. Although sometimes overshadowed by the overall tornado devastation in the area, it was a day of days for the Wren community as well. An EF-3 struck hard at 3 a.m. and then the unthinkable happened 12 hours later: Another EF-3 tore through the community.

The tornadoes bounced around Wren and its surrounding communities, twisting houses and reducing mammoth trees to splintery piles of pulpwood. The shear spread of destruction looked like a war zone. Entire homes were not just destroyed, but were entirely wiped off their foundations leaving nothing behind.

When said and done, 150 homes had been destroyed.

Residents recalled stories of carpet and linoleum being sucked off the floor while others described watching the tornado vacuum the water, and even the ducks, out of a nearby pond. One family’s two boys rode out the storm in a bathtub that was taken up in the air and then safely delivered back down again. Another man’s home was picked up and pitched into his neighbor’s lake, with all of the contents still inside. It’s still there a year later.

Melissa Blue, a member of Common Ground Christian Church, said, “We would go from house to house, road to road, asking people who needed help. We’d help that person and then ask if they knew anybody else who needed help. We just kept doing that over and over again.amp”

Her church served about 500 meals a day for the first week and also took food to people still in their homes.

“They felt like they couldn’t leave their stuff. Even though they didn’t have a lot, they felt like they couldn’t leave it,” said Blue. “We served the people in the community displaced by the tornadoes, with food, water, tarps, tents, and whatever was needed for clean-up.”

The Wren Volunteer Fire Department became the command center for local, state, and federal authorities. It served as a Red Cross shelter and a safe haven for tornado victims.

Cheryl Albritton-Mays, who volunteered at the fire station, said she and an army of volunteers cooked and delivered 1,000 to 1,500 meals a day for the first several weeks. Area churches pooled their resources and provided free clothing and additional food.

Even in the midst of their own disaster, the Wren community pulled together to not only take care of its own friends and neighbors, but also take supplies to Smithville and several tornado ravaged towns in Alabama.

“The outpouring of support for Wren from other communities, counties and even other states was unbelievable,” said the Dennis Smithey, pastor of Central Grove Baptist Church.

“One Saturday, we had over 300 volunteers show up to help. They spent the day clearing trees and removing debris from driveways and rooftops for folks.”

It’s now almost a year later.

Ray Gallop is still picking up storm debris on his farm. “My life will never be back to normal, but I’m thankful that in one day, I survived two tornadoes.”

“Out of the 150 homes hit or damaged, 80 percent of the people that suffered damage have remained in the area and rebuilt, said Smithey. “People like the close knit feeling in Wren and want to stay here. They’re trying to put their lives back together.”