Coming home to help

When Oneal Boswell heard about the widespread tornado damage in Enterprise, he knew he needed to do something to help his hometown recover.

BY SHARON DUNTEN | ENTERPRISE, Ala. | March 7, 2007


When Oneal Boswell heard about the widespread tornado damage in Enterprise, he knew he needed to do something to help his hometown recover.

So he left his job in Birmingham, Ala., and returned to the town where he grew up to lend a hand in the recovery process. He is one of the myriad volunteers who are helping communities throughout the South recover after being devastated by recent deadly tornadoes.

Boswell is a 1983 graduate of Enterprise High School, where eight students were killed when a tornado slammed into the school on March 1. The twister also killed a ninth person in the southern Alabama town. More than 300 homes were damaged or destroyed.

Boswell quickly found himself working at a disaster relief station outside the YMCA off Highway 27. As trucks, SUVs and cars dropped off supplies, Boswell, along fellow graduate Brenda Taylor and Red Cross volunteers, unloaded water, food, tarps, cleaning supplies and diapers. They then distributed those items to individuals and families affected by the storm.

"We gave out 700 sandwiches the first day," Taylor said.

Boswell's efforts weren't limited to just that location.

With help from his father's Honda dealership, he loaded a four-wheel drive utility vehicle with cold water and soda, sandwiches and blue tarps. Driving on roads littered with downed trees and other storm debris, Boswell maneuvered to driveways and yards to deliver his cargo to thirsty and hungry homeowners, construction workers, police and Army personnel from nearby Fort Rucker who were helping in the cleanup.

One resident, who had found refuge in a closet when the tornado struck her home, laughed with Boswell about expecting a dinner party where she could use her good china.

Sorting through her belongings in her driveway, she found a large poster of a cat.

"We have no idea where this came from," she said.

Standing behind the large pile of debris at the end of her driveway was a "for sale" sign planted in the middle of her yard.

Boswell was also able to get help for Manny and Melissa Rodriguez and their five children, who had moved to Enterprise from California just one month ago. Boswell arranged for the family to get assistance through the Automobile Association Relief Fund from his father's auto dealership, where Manny Rodriguez had just started work.

Melissa Rodriguez, who had clutched her 1-month-old baby in her arms when the tornado hit their home, described the nightmare storm scene. She said the sky was a bright green and then turned black.

"I have never seen anything like it," she said. "My husband called and said to get into the bathroom quickly."

Outside the Artsy Place in town, Boswell found Sherry Eddins, his former high school art teacher, surveying damage to her store. The tornado tore the roof off the building and most everything in the store was either destroyed by the storm or taken by looters, she said.

"Compared to all the homes, this is nothing," Eddins said, adding that she had no plans to rebuild.

Down the street from her shop, a large crane loaded trees and parts of homes into dump trucks brought in by Fort Rucker.

"Fort Rucker is a large part of this community," Boswell said.

He said many military families often return to Enterprise to live because of the community and the school system.

Boswell said he expected that residents would continue to support each other and rebuild. He said he would stay in Enterprise to help in the recovery as long as he was needed.


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