Into the Wind
Drivers prove again that they are always there in time of need
As a massive tornado ripped its deadly swath through the heart of Tuscaloosa, Ala., on Wednesday, April 27, first instincts were simply survival. For many residents caught in the path, getting out of the way wasn’t possible. It came down to getting to the safest place in homes and businesses and praying that you came through it alive.
Sadly, in my hometown of Tuscaloosa (where this magazine’s publisher, Randall-Reilly Business Media and Information, is based) and other towns in Alabama and neighboring Southern states, many did not. With search and rescue still going on at this writing, we know that the death toll is more than 300 (the figure is 41 here) and likely to rise.
Once the storm clouds passed, thousands of residents were forced to continue on in survival mode. The tornado laid waste to homes and possessions. No matter if you were rich or poor, it was the basics that were needed: food, water and shelter.
First on the disaster scenes were neighbors, friends, family and emergency personnel all working together to preserve life. And soon, and I mean very soon, were many of our friends in the trucking industry. It’s the response we’ve seen every time there is a manmade or natural disaster — truckers, trucking companies, OEMs, suppliers coming together to help.
I have reported many times on the countless truck drivers who have, without a second thought, pointed their rigs in the direction of where people are suffering and come to the rescue with life-sustaining supplies. Many times, it is at their own expense.
This time it was personal. It was my hometown, where I live, work and raise my kids. For the first two days, I was in the middle of the devastation helping my sister and her family salvage what they could after the tornado destroyed their house. As I worked, I could see trucks making their way along University Boulevard, thanks to the downed trees that should have impeded the view.
No matter if you were rich or poor, it was the basics that were needed: food, water and shelter.
I would soon learn from coworkers and friends of the many truckers who flocked to the area to help. Carolyn Magner, a contributor for this magazine, rode with owner-operator Derek Jones of Dallas (formerly of York, Ala.) and his sister Dawn Ward of Huntsville, Ala., who came in Jones’ personal vehicle with a pull-behind flatbed trailer. They spent three days delivering ice and other necessities to storm victims.
“For truckers, it’s just natural to want to help,” says Jones, whose owns a two-truck fleet called DC Jones Trucking. “We deal with seeing people all the time stranded on the side of the road and things like that. But I was also there because this is my home state and I was looking to help the people there.”
Also lending a welcomed hand were Mercer Transportation Recruiting Manager Brian Helton and Recruiter Chris Swanks, who took up donations and gathered supplies in Louisville, Ky., and drove through the night on Friday in personal vehicles to bring aid.
Another Good Samaritan was Bryan Johnson of the ZF Corp., who drove from Detroit with supplies.
These are just a few people off the top my head who came in the first couple of days. There are hundreds more who deserved praise for the acts of kindness and I hate that can’t name them all here.
I was inundated with phone calls in the hours and days following the storm. Many were the usual suspects; family, close friends and coworkers I see often. But I was pleasantly surprised to hear from so many of my trucker friends, many of whom it’s been awhile since I’ve seen. Among them were Butch and Dora Colvin, Charlie Hamilton, Marshall Platter and Lee Jordan. They called, texted and sent emails to make sure we were safe and to offer help and support.
As with the National Guard, police officers, emergency personnel and firemen, I wish that I had time to meet and talk with more of the drivers who have been here helping in the Southeast. Seeing truckers come in force to your own hometown because it is you and your neighbors who need help this time takes me a back a few years to another tragedy. I remember how inspiring it was talking to drivers who went to New York City and Washington, D.C., immediately after the 9/11 terrorist attacks to assist in with the aftermath of that terrible event. Knowing that no matter what happens, they are going to be there for you, helps you deal with the destruction.
As with 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, we first mourn for those we lost, but we move forward. And as always, it’s the truckers leading the way. From Tuscaloosa, we say again, “Thank you!”