LLOYD GRAY: Thoughts in the aftermath

LLOYD GRAY

LLOYD GRAY

Clearly the most amazing thing about last week’s events in Tupelo and beyond is that the tornado didn’t kill a lot of people.

Many factors contributed to that brightest of spots in what could have been a much darker day for this city. So many more people now have those handy weather alerts on their phones or are otherwise more connected than ever to what’s happening up to the moment. And then there’s Matt Laubhan, of course.

As for the sirens, well … not as much help there, apparently.

But one factor may have been overlooked. It’s a decision that school officials in Tupelo and Lee County made to dismiss school at 12:30 p.m., two hours before all hell broke loose.

No doubt this was inconvenient for many parents. But I doubt few if any of them will ever again question a similar decision.

Imagine what it would have been like if school had been just about to let out when that tornado struck around 2:45 p.m. Legions of parents and other caregivers would have been in transit to school or waiting in lines to pick kids up. Buses could have been heading out. What a monumental tragedy that could have been.

Safety took priority. I have to believe those decisions saved a life or two – perhaps many more. At the very least, it saved an enormous amount of parental anxiety.

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This was Tupelo’s biggest disaster since the 1936 tornado. The 2014 version didn’t compare with that one in utter devastation of the city and massive loss of life. But it was a major blow nevertheless, one that the biggest weather disaster since the ‘36 tornado – the 1994 ice storm – couldn’t come close to matching.

Yet the city, unused to this kind of event, has acquitted itself well so far. Police kept darkened neighborhoods protected. Power crews have worked more quickly than any of us had a right to expect in restoring power to all but the hardest hit areas by the end of the week. The first steps in cleanup and recovery have been well-managed. A system for handling the influx of volunteers – the great goodwill pouring in from within and without – is in place.

Another surprisingly speedy occurrence was the signing by the president of the federal disaster declaration within a matter of hours after a request from the governor and a visit by the state’s congressional delegation, two of whom – Roger Wicker and Alan Nunnelee – live in Tupelo. The federal aid that will come will make a huge difference in relieving financial stress on the city and county as they recover.

Here’s a political question: Look at what has happened in Tupelo and nearby. Then ask yourself, how could anybody regard support for federal disaster relief as anything but a positive no-brainer. Yet there are candidates running these days – including one for the U.S. Senate in Mississippi – who haven’t always been so sure. Hint: It’s not Thad Cochran.

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I walk many mornings. On recent Sundays, early enough in the morning so that traffic on North Gloster has been light, I’ve ventured from our home in the Pinecrest neighborhood just north of McCullough Boulevard up Gloster and over in to Lynn Circle in the Sharon Hills neighborhood. I’ve walked over there for the sheer pleasure of taking in the stately old trees and the spring flowers.

This past Sunday, 32 hours before the tornado hit, I took my last walk through that neighborhood as it was. Even more than usual, I was struck by how beautifully lush it was that day.

It’s different now, as are several other neighborhoods in the vicinity. Other homes in neighborhoods not so hard hit – like ours – nevertheless have had portions of our surroundings reshaped. Even after damaged homes are repaired or rebuilt, those scars – those missing majestic canopies – will still be gone.

But slowly, over time, the neighborhoods will find their new physical identity and the people who live in them will feel at home again.

Lloyd Gray is executive editor of the Daily Journal. Contact him at (662) 678-1579 or lloyd.gray@journalinc.com