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â€œIn Norborne we pull together, no matter what,â€ said Jessica Miller, president of the Norborne Fire Department Auxiliary. â€œOnce we got over the initial shock, we got to work.â€
According to the National Weather Service, straight-line winds ravaged the small town last Wednesday evening, June 17, tearing limbs off of trees, and tossing them â€“ and sometimes the entire tree â€“ onto homes and roofs. A brick building, built in 1906, was blown down destroying Larryâ€™s Auto Service located next to it.
The storm was one thing, but the response from communities and volunteers spoke volumes about the caring and grit of the people in small-town America.
â€œOur town pulled together, and so many came. They just showed up â€“ no questions asked,â€ said Norborne Fire Chief Ryan Miller. â€œThey came and said, â€˜We want to help.â€™ They didnâ€™t ask for money, they just came, and they came from miles and miles away.â€
Power went out as the storm hit around 6 p.m. Winds were estimated near 70 mph. Residents heard the sirens go off.
â€œI knew there was a severe thunderstorm warning,â€ said Ruby Seek. â€œI was watching the wind from my door. Iâ€™ve never seen anything like that before.â€
As soon as the winds subsided and residents dared to venture forth to assess the damage, the word went out to neighboring towns and agencies about the severe hit Norborne had taken. The first order of business was to be sure everyone was accounted for and safe, to restore power and secure the town
The response was in full swing when Thursday morning dawned. Norborne Fire Department and volunteers from Ray County Sheriffâ€™s Department, Carroll County Sheriffâ€™s Department and Hardin Fire Department made sure all entrances into town were secured. A command post was set up at the fire station for residents, volunteers and different agencies to sign in â€“ to account for everyone and for the safety of residents and businesses.
â€œI know everyone didnâ€™t sign in, and I donâ€™t want to leave anyone out that helped,â€ said Jessica Miller. â€œThere were so many. Weâ€™ve had over 250 volunteers and theyâ€™re still coming. The work is ongoing.â€
The Norborne Community Center set up a generator, providing electricity and air-conditioning for residents and crews to get some relief from the heat and to grab a meal and stay hydrated. Jessica remembers breakfast foods brought in by First Baptist Church and Southside Church from Carrollton.
â€œThe Red Cross, Carrollton Fire Auxiliary, my good friend LaCrissa Smith, and Norborne Fire Auxiliary kept the Community Center running,â€ said Jessica.
The various fire departments had men throughout town with chainsaws, taking care of downed limbs and trees, cutting them up and stacking them.
Volunteers from many communities helped drag the limbs away from homes and where they could be cut up, then they helped with stacking them away from homes or onto trailers when available.
â€œThere are trees everywhere. Power lines are down and the poles are barely hanging on,â€ said Connie Plemons of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Odessa Ward, who spoke to The Daily News on June 18.
â€œThere were KCP&L crews restoring powerâ€¦and theyâ€™ll probably be there most of the night. We were there all day, and the trees are the biggest problems. There were 60-year-old trees or older all over everywhere, including on top of houses, barns and cars. One building fell on a truck and it was totally crushed, except for the front tires. We cut and cleared all day and we only got down one block,â€ she said.
Plemons and her husband, Dave, are emergency preparedness leaders in their church ward, and responded when word went out that help was needed. She said that approximately 30 church members from Odessa and Warrensburg, including four sets of missionaries, met and traveled to Norborne.
â€œIt was very impressive that we could go to a yard and, in less than 28 minutes, have it cleared and the wood stacked,â€ Plemons said. â€œThose guys really worked hard.â€
Jessica was pleased that so many people from so many groups turned out to help
â€œOne youth group, the Hardin Science Club, helped rake yards and the park. The LDS group was everywhere,â€ said Jessica. â€œThey were all over town. They spread themselves out.â€
Quick to repeat that not all volunteers and groups signed in, Jessica said Embarq, Green Hills, and MGE assisted KCP&L and the fire departments in removing limbs, and restoring power and phone lines to homes.
â€œThe last tree my bunch from Odessa was involved with was a 60-year old pecan tree that was laying on top of a little manâ€™s house. He was sitting on the porch, and looked so destitute. It was the biggest pecan tree I have ever seen â€“ and being from Texas, I have seen some pretty big pecan trees. It had been uprooted and some of the limbs were shoved into the roof of that little manâ€™s house. It had hit the ground with such force that some of the limbs were buried in the ground about 10 inches. That little man was born in that house over 70 years ago, and just didnâ€™t know what he was going to do,â€ said Plemons.
â€œNo one knew how to get that huge tree off of his house, but the brethren went to work. Everyone on the block watched as these courageous men climbed atop of that house and threw down logs and limbs. It was hard. Everybody on the block said it was impossible to move that tree without crushing the house, but they got it done. Pop! Down it came right beside the house without another bit of damage to the house and no harm to anyone around. Itâ€™s amazing how they thought about it, planned it out and set to work and â€“ with the Lordâ€™s help â€“ it was a done deal.â€
The Community Center closed down Saturday evening after supper.
â€œWe still had food coming in afterward, and even from the residents,â€ Jessica said. â€œAfter they got their electricity on, they brought food in for others.â€
Sunday was Fatherâ€™s Day, but work had to continue. Jessica shared a touching story.
â€œA group of gentlemen and their sons came from Oak Grove. They were part of a church group and it was their Fatherâ€™s Day gift,â€ said Jessica. â€œThe young men said, â€˜We wanted to do a good deed for someone else and to do it with our dads.â€
Ryan summed up the current status.
â€œWe donâ€™t need help right now. Most of it is picked up and hauled out.â€ As for rebuilding efforts, many residents didnâ€™t have insurance, so the difficulties are ongoing.
Though there are most likely agencies and organizations missing from this list the Millers identified the following:
Fire departments: Hardin, Stet, Cowgill, Orrick, Carrollton, North Central Carroll Fire Protection District, Hale Fire Protection District, Wood Heights, Richmond, Lawson, and Independence.
Police and Sheriffâ€™s departments: Ray and Carroll counties.
Ambulance: Carroll County, and Ray County
Other volunteers/services: Ray County Mobile Command, Red Cross, Bethel Mennonite Church, Tipton Church, Carroll County Bridge Department
The Millers also expressed gratitude on behalf of the citizens of Norborne to â€œthe many school, church and civic groups, to the area fire departments, merchants, restaurants, emergency personnel, tree services, and local waste facilities for all of their assistance and support.â€
Photo: Jared Plemons of Odessa was just one of over 250 volunteers that have helped clean up yards and streets in Norborne after last Wednesdayâ€™s 70-mph winds. (Submitted photo)