Holt ‘a little bit forgotten’

by Jon Reed

Wednesday night, Margaret Brown saw her house fall around her and her business destroyed.

Sunday, she vowed to pick up the pieces.

Brown, who owns Brown Greenhouses on Crescent Ridge Road in Holt, was at her home on Cherrywood Circle when the tornado hit. She and her daughter, Ann Marie, sought shelter in the bathroom, but it was a friend of her daughter who ultimately saved their lives, she said.

Michael Bujalski went to work at Kozy’s restaurant at 3 p.m. Wednesday, but Kozy’s sent him home when they had no power. Instead of going to his home, which was not in the tornado’s path, Bujalski went to check on the Browns.

“I don’t think I would be here without Michael,” Margaret Brown said. “I think God put Michael there.”

Bujalski held Margaret and Ann Marie Brown to the floor of the bathroom as the tornado picked up the house three times and stripped away the walls.

“If he hadn’t been there,” Ann Marie Brown said, “We would’ve gone up in the air.”

When it was over, all three escaped uninjured.

“God and Michael were with us,” Margaret Brown said. “God held us all together.”

Sunday afternoon, volunteers swarmed Brown Greenhouses to help the family think about starting over again. People from as far away as Florida helped salvage what plants remained in the Browns’ 16 greenhouses, while others used the parking lot of the business to prepare food for residents and volunteers.

The family’s business has served Holt for about 24 years.

“Our customers don’t want us to quit, so I guess we’re not quitting,” Margaret Brown said.

While the Browns are thinking about rebuilding, others in Holt are still surveying the damage. The Federal Emergency Management Agency set up a command center at Holt Elementary School, and police with cadaver dogs began scouring what remains of neighborhoods.

People lined Crescent Ridge Road handing out food and water to volunteers, residents and anyone who passed by. But all of the food and water coming into the area does not fill every need of residents, one volunteer said.

“Yesterday, when we were in Alberta, it was mostly workers needing food,” said Kelly Greene, a volunteer from Tuscaloosa. “Here, it’s families needing everything.”

Greene said residents often need small items most volunteers don’t bring. One resident needed diapers and formula for a newborn. Another, a diabetic, needed something sweet, and a volunteer supplied lollipops.

The Holt area is still in need of everything, Greene said.

“It’s completely different here than what we found yesterday in Alberta,” she said. “This place seems to be a little bit forgotten.”

Power companies from Georgia and South Carolina put new electrical poles up along Crescent Ridge Road, but rebuilding Holt will take far more than that, Greene said.

“They’ve got the poles up, but there’s nothing to hook it to,” she said. “Holt Elementary and the water tower are still standing, but there’s nothing else.”

Rafeal Nevels returned to his home Sunday to salvage his car. The wall around the back of his house was missing, but a bookshelf and other pieces of furniture still stood in the house, fully visible from the road.

Nevels said he had spent much of his time out helping others, and that his own possessions had fallen victim because of it. Looters had taken his flat screen television and his computer monitor.

“I know it’s gone, but it’ll get replaced,” he said. “I’m not pitching a fit about it; I just thank God my life is here.”

Residents said looters were using back roads to get around police after curfew, since residents were not allowed in the area either after 8 p.m.

Nevels’ mother-in-law, Shirley Billingsley, said despite all of the problems and the looting, she has seen the best of the city rise up in wake of the crisis.

“It’s rough out here,” she said, “but you know what? First time in my life I ever saw Tuscaloosa – black, white, Puerto Rican, Mexican – working together. Hallelujah, God is good.”

 

This article first appeared on The Crimson White’s website on May 1, 2011.