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Tornado cleanup continues month after storm

By Gavin Lesnick

This article was published February 22, 2012 at 6:00 a.m.

bennie-cox-works-to-dismantle-and-burn-a-trailer-that-was-destroyed-in-a-jan-22-tornado-in-fordyce

Bennie Cox works to dismantle and burn a trailer that was destroyed in a Jan. 22 tornado in Fordyce.

Fordyce still recovering month after tornado

Residents and businesses in Fordyce hit by a Jan. 22 tornado are still recovering one month later.

Fordyce storm damage

January 23, 2012

Fordyce mayor surveys damage

Fordyce Mayor John MacNichol surveyed the damage Monday morning after a tornado touched down in his ...

Fordyce cleaning up after tornado

No serious injuries were reported, but at least two homes were destroyed and others damaged when a t...

— For nearly 50 years, Grady Green watched as the dozens of young pines dotting his yard transformed into imposing figures looming large above it.

Then, in the space of a minute and amid a roaring wind the 71-year-old retired lumber worker says he will never forget, all but a handful were gone.

It was the work of an EF2 tornado that touched down one month ago tonight, packing winds up to 135 mph as it tore a path of destruction through parts of the city. Green and his wife took shelter inside the home he built 47 years ago, emerging to find two pickups destroyed and almost all the trees toppled.

And Green considers himself among the lucky ones.

"I had quite a bit of damage to my house, but I look across the fence," Green said, standing in his muddy, barren yard and motioning to a neighboring home destroyed in the storm. "See that trailer there? Compared to that, I didn't have any damage at all. And the house right yonder, it's totally gone."

A month removed from the tornado, its power is still overwhelmingly evident. Large trees lie broken on the ground, homes have tarps covering holes in the roofs and piles of debris line yards, particularly in the heavily damaged community near Green's home off Highway 8.

Despite the damage, residents say they take solace in two things: knowing no one was hurt or killed in the Jan. 22 storm and seeing the community - and those around it - come together to help rebuild.

James Garner, 67, lives across Highway 8 from Green. The tornado left his home mostly undamaged, but it demolished a barn, ripped the roof from his workshop, destroyed a truck and farming equipment and toppled a camper. And he estimates crews will remove 100 loads of logs from a wooded area around his home, where most of the trees were knocked down or snapped midway up.

In the first week of the storm, at least 20 people - some of them strangers - were on his property at any given time, helping pick up debris, haul off branches or provide food.

"That's a plus for a little town like Fordyce," Garner said. "I don't know what we would have done without people helping."

Insurance issues remain, the camper is still upside down in the backyard, the barn needs to be rebuilt and there's hundreds of trees yet to be moved from Garner's property alone. But he's optimistic life will return to normal at the home where he and his wife have lived since 1968.

"We're going to build back," Garner said. "We're going to get this cleaned up here and replant some pines out there and plant us some shade trees ... It's just sad to see it tore up so bad, but we have a place to live here, we have our bed and we kept out lives."

About three miles southwest from Garner's home, the tornado touched down at the Fordyce Country Club. It tore up the roof and broke the large glass windows of the clubhouse, knocked a bath house building into a nearby swimming pool and uprooted more than 125 trees. Total damage is estimated at $750,000 or more.

William Ross, the club president, said crews have been busy removing the fallen trees and salvaging what they can from the battered buildings. In the month since the storm, the pool was drained and debris removed. Only a concrete base remains where the bath house once stood.

Ross, who called it "devastating" having to sift through damage the morning after the storm, said it was eerie to see how that building - made of solid concrete blocks - was no match for the winds.

"If I'd been a betting man and someone told me there was a tornado coming, that's where I would have been," he said. "The door to the bathroom was the only thing left standing."

The club has made tremendous strides in cleaning up, Ross said, thanks in large part to volunteers. More than 150 people showed up to help clear the fairway of debris and, even with the damaged clubhouse out of commission, golfers were out three days after the storm.

Ross said the disaster has in some ways brought together the city of about 4,300 people.

"I see a tremendous difference in the town right now," he said. "They always have been friendly around here, but now, a little bit more so."

Signs of progress are evident, too, in the hardest hits parts of town.

The wreckage of one destroyed house on Ford Drive has already been removed and a concrete foundation for its replacement poured. Down the street, workers on a recent afternoon were positioning metal sheets on a shed that lost part of its roof. And Bennie Cox labored nearby, dismantling a wrecked trailer piece by piece so the land can be used again.

Cox, wearing a hat reading "It'll Get Better," said he expects it will take another week or two before the whole lot is cleared.

"We just work together and slowly but surely it's coming back," he said. "It might have been a tornado, but it's not the end of it. We've got to pick up and go on from here."

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