Today, it's one year since the tornado that ripped through Atlanta, and specifically, downtown Atlanta, where so much damage was done. At the time, it was reported there were "no casualties". That's not the case. Read on, in this article, penned by my fellow Screen Actors'Guild member, Cameron Beach.
Cameron's contact info is listed at the end of this essay.
“A TORNADO JUST HIT DOWNTOWN ATLANTA! ”
These historical words highlighted an event which forever changed the landscape of our great city.Equally Shocking, the report that there were No Fatalities.
One Week Later that press release proved hasty.
After working with those who had the most urgent Needs late the night of the Tornado and into the first full ‘Post Atlanta Tornado’ day I , like many others, began to grasp the magnitude of what had just taken place.
At that point I felt it My Mission to bring into focus the Hardest Hit Communities so as to facilitate city, state, and federal aid.
Walking the various side streets around Edgewood the night after the Tornado with my camera, camcorder, and notepad I couldn’t help but dwell on the feeling of sheer terror the Atlanta Residents, especially Homeless Residents, must have felt when they saw and experienced Nature’s fury blast through.
Gregory Lee was one of many homeless men and women who had no place to run.His life on the streets came to an end Between a Wall and a Bus, Alone.
The night after the Tornado, after documenting the many homes, businesses, buildings along what can only be described as a twisted and torn path I started back down Hilliard towards the Marta Station.Here I talked with many of Atlanta’s Homeless who were simply afraid to go near many of their regular shelters/structures to sleep due to the Atlanta Tornado and weather system which came through the next morning. I wrote down Names and Needs and headed up towards Decatur Street.I turned left and started East parallel to the Marta station.
After walking no more than 50 yards, for whatever reason, I stopped, turned left,and walked into an Abandoned Parking Lot.
If you had focused on the first landmark that caught your eye ,a Store Front and its near unscathed appearance, you would have simply walked by. However something Drew Me around the store and to the back lot. It looked like someone had taken a can opener and peeled the roof open. Around the opening was concrete, steel re-bar, and rubble.This scene clearly highlighted how fickle a Tornado could be, leaving the front of the building untouched, while demolishing the back of the very same structure.
I started to take photographs and video as this footage would surely impress upon Georgia Residents that it wasn’t just the ‘Omni or Westin’ which were savaged by the Tornado.
(In fact the path of the Tornado devastated places such as Vine City, The O’Herne House, The Antoine Graves Buildings, Cotton Mill Lofts, Cabbagetown, just to name a few.)
“I suddenly focused in on one Small Area Of Rubble, between a wall and bus.”
After approximately one hour I started back up Decatur Street. I felt drawn to revisit the back lot of that store. Less than two hours later I was back by the Intersection of Hilliard and Decatur. Taking additional photographs and video, something about that Pile of Rubble between the wall and the bus made My Heart Sink. Thirty Minutes later I started the hike back to where I had parked.
People who talked to me on my cellphone during my drive home said that I sounded different, sad.I woke up the next morning with that same Sadness. Something had changed me, something affected me like never before, albeit one week would pass before I would truly realize What it was which had so profoundly moved me.
One week later, after dropping off clothes and relief supplies for the Senior Citizens of the Antoine Graves Buildings (which had taken a direct hit from the Atlanta Tornado) I decided to take a short cut to a benefit event for the severely damaged historical Cabbagetown.
Something caught my eye briefly in the rear view mirror,I quickly pulled Uturn.
The back of the store damaged by the Tornado was almost completely leveled. However it looked like the demolition crew had stopped mid-job.
I flagged down someone coming out of the next building up.“What happened here?” He quickly answered, “Don’t you know?”
The stranger continued on to tell me that earlier in the day the demolition crew stopped their heavy work when they saw something in the rubble.
He went on to say that ‘Some Homeless Guy’ had run from the Tornado tried to find shelter between a Marta Bus and a Wall and was crushed by debris.
It took no more than a minute before a Flood of Memories from one week prior came back, Where I Was, What I Was Doing, the Profound Sadness that had Hit Me.
From Vine City to Cabbagetown and all points in between I was drawn to ‘Two Square Feet’ , underneath which lay “Gregory Lee” the Atlanta Tornado’s only Fatality.
My eyes teared up as I wrote a Note to Gregory Lee which he would never read.
I placed the note at the exact location where he had been dug out of his shallow grave earlier that day.
What if I had followed that same instinct which kept bringing me back to that pile of rubble the night after the Atlanta Tornado…Maybe I Could Have Done Something…He Was There…Under The Rubble…only a foot from where I was standing.
Now, Forever Changed, I am left to find meaning in this Tragedy.
I am one of those who believes ‘Everything Happens For A Reason.’
I simply cannot let the Record Rest at :‘A Homeless Man Was Found In The Rubble’…a statistic.
Instead I want people to know that Mr.Lee was a human being with a heart, a soul, a family. Gregory Lee grew up here in Atlanta and attended Smith High School with his sister Jamie.After serving our country in the military he drove a trolley bus for Marta and school buses for the vast Atlanta public school system.
Mr. Lee has a son who is 26 years old and two grand children. He was a laid back individual who enjoyed reading a great deal. As a result of his mother dying Gregory Lee fell into a deep depression which eventually lead to the streets. At 45 years old Mr.Lee lost his life.
Here are two older pictures of Mr.Lee with both his sister and a Hawks Basketball player.
Homelessness is at an all time high in America.Gregory Lee was one of the Countless Individuals across the country who not only lack roofs over their heads but also face psychological challenges daily.Homeless shelters across the country are facing trying times due to a lack of funding. Many shelters are facing closure all together.
We Each Can Do Our Part to help ‘The Homeless’ in our Cities and Communities.
However, I firmly believe that if ‘We All Work Together’ the term “Homeless” can be a thing of the past in America. Perhaps…the day that Changed Atlanta, and the Loss of Mr. Gregory Lee can be the impetus for a greater change nationwide.
St. Vincent De Paul : http://www.svdpatl.org/
The United Way : http://www.liveunited.org/
Habitat For Humanity : http://www.liveunited.org/
The Salvation Army : http://www.salvationarmyusa.org/
Catholic Charities : http://www.catholiccharitiesusa.org/
From The Rustic Desk Of,Cameron BeachThe Mountain Man__________________________( www.TheMountainMan.Freeservers.com ) ( www.myspace.com/mountainmansworld )( http://www.facebook.com/people/Cameron_Beach/786567263 )
Many thanks to Cameron Beach for this poignant essay, and my apologies on the photos not being seen here, which are mentioned in the essay, and were available in the original print of this.Once again, I'm having problems with the photos loading.(sigh).
I urge everyone who read Cameron Beach's first-hand account, to stop for a moment and be grateful for all the blessings in your own life, and perhaps find a way--through your time, talent, or treasure--to "give back". In memory of Mr. Gregory Lee.