Like the home owners surrounding them, businesses also are rebuilding and finding strength in a tight-knit community.
Representatives from the business community, city government, local churches and utility providers spoke Thursday morning at the Adairsville Inn for breakfast hosted by the Cartersville-Bartow County Chamber of Commerce. Guests recounted how the events of Wednesday, Jan. 30, unfolded and what is being done now to recover from the storm.
Among those speaking Thursday was Wes Stephenson, executive vice president of Daiki USA. Suffering some of the most devastating damage, a portion of Daiki’s Adairsville manufacturing facility was demolished as the tornado made its way across Bartow and Gordon counties.
Stephenson explained how plant administrators pulled their employees from offices and the plant floor, first gathering in the cafeteria, then retreating to the bathrooms as the storm worsened. Taking cover with co-workers, Stephenson found shelter in the plant kitchen where he and those with him became trapped as the building fell down around them.
“At first it sounded like a tremendous hail storm just pounding on the doors and the walls. I was holding the door and I thought just any minute it would collapse and then all of a sudden the ceiling caved in and I looked up and the roof was gone. We were looking at the open sky and we were trapped,” Stephenson said. “It was a dramatic day for us and some of us are working 24/7 trying to figure out where to go next.
“I can’t emphasize enough — you need to have a plan. We can rebuild the plant, we can buy new equipment, but our main concern is the people we take care of.”
One Daiki employee was injured, but has since made a full recovery. After Stephenson and his colleagues escaped the devastated facility, they were sheltered by their neighbors at NorthSide Bank.
NorthSide Bank Executive Vice President Barry Adcock recalled how he watched the storm approach from the bank’s second story and took refuge under a coworker’s desk as the tornado passed, causing extensive damage to the bank’s roof.
“I usually try to keep up with everything, but this day I had heard the reports and the forecast that it was possible, but that always happens somewhere else,” Adcock said. “The building began to shake and vibrate and you could hear the wind and commotion outside. I tell people it was like the building was in a paint shaker at the hardware store and then you could hear the popping and the cracking as the building was being torqued and twisted — and then it was gone.”
Although damaged, the bank remained structurally sound and bank employees quickly took in the employees displaced from Daiki. Adcock also shared stories of compassion in the days that followed. One competing bank took the initiative to help NorthSide find a temporary location to conduct business, while another made sure NorthSide employees were fed. Bank President Mark Swanson shared that a bank customer actually leant him his car after finding that his had been damaged in the storm.
Stories of encouragement and community outreach were in no short supply Thursday as guests told of the kindness shown by friends, neighbors and strangers. Pastor Ken Coomer of the Adairsville Church of God gave a report on recovery efforts within the community.
A total of 2,300 volunteers have come through the city in the last week to clear debris and make donations. Through churches and community service organizations, more than 10,000 meals have been served since the tornado struck.
From the city of Adairsville, City Manager Pat Crook gave an update as crews continue to work. She advised residents to be patient as city staff remain focused on the needs of those affected by the storm. Crook also reminded those living and working in the city that water pressure may fluctuate in the coming days and assured those present Thursday that public works is monitoring the situation.
“I moved to Adairsville about two and half years ago and I’ve seen a lot since I’ve been here,” Crook said. “We’ve made some changes, some have been popular, some haven’t been, but this experience has been amazing. Everyone in this community has put aside anything they thought and they came together — they’ve cried together, they’ve hugged, they’ve prayed — and it’s been amazing.
“We got city hall back up and running on Monday, but we’re trying to take care of people that were affected first. We’re trying to get people back in their houses and we’re trying to get businesses back where they need to be. So we hope everyone understands that’s our priority. If something new comes in or is not related to the storm, we may not be able to get to it this week. We’re trying to register contractors and keep people safe and protected.”
Coomer urged those that are able to return Saturday to volunteer in the cleanup effort. Those interested in helping may visit www.bartowrecovery.org or call the Adairsville Church of God at 770-773-3264.