One Dead in Wilcox County; Community Mourns but Still Grateful

Miller's Ferry, Ala., March 1, 2007 -- The correct numbers have been hard to come by concerning the number of fatalities in Wilcox County, but by late Thursday night officials were saying only one person died in the storm that roared through the Sand Island area of the county.

The storm destroyed between 20-25 homes.  Buildings that once provided refuge for families were reduced to piles of debris, scattered over two miles.   Neighbors are in disbelief that a once beautiful community was wiped out in a matter of seconds. "It's unbelieveable the wrath this tornado had," said one shaken resident.

The powerful storm left little untouched.   It flipped cars, snapped trees like twigs, turned homes into rubble and shattered lives in the once peaceful community.

Jamie Wallace, was sitting with his wife when they saw the warnings on television.  They got to their storm shelter just in time, "six seconds and we wouldn't be talking," says the man who's lost his home.

Wallace's neighbor, Cliff Gaston, wasn't as lucky -- Gaston died when the storm hit his home.

Darryl Sessions, who called Gaston a friend, says it's a blow, "Camden's a small place and anytime we lose one of our own it's devastating."

Neighbors say Gaston had a home in Camden but would come to his house at Sand Island for lunch every day. He leaves behind a wife and two young sons.   "I lost a brother in a car crash. Anytime you see somebody grieving and struggling, it brings back bad memories."

People in the community say one loss is too many, but are thankful, realizing if more people had been at home when the storm hit, the losses would have been far greater.  They mourn and pray for the Gaston family, yet count their blessings that more lives were not lost.  "We just thank God."  Two other people in the community suffered minor injuries when a mobile home was blown over.

Sessions says the community will "recover and move on from this.  It's going to be a little while...but with help from a good community we'll survive."

The Red Cross has set up a shelter at the Riverview Baptist Church in Miller's Ferry.    The Salvation Army is also on the scene feeding first responders.  On Friday the clean-up effort will begin.   Officials say they need all the help they can get.

Reporter in Miller's Ferry -  Sally Pitts

Internet Producer - Helen Hammons