Lake Martin Campground Tornado

My husband and I were at the Lake Martin Campground in Dadeville last April 27 (2011) when the tornado ripped through. We had been there for a couple of days, staying in a cabin at the end of a short peninsula that juts out into the lake. The weather was dreary, so we had spent the afternoon in the cabin and watched on TV as the tornados roared through Tuscaloosa and Birmingham, Alabama to our northwest.  We knew we were going to get some stormy weather, but thought the worst of it might miss us to the north.

We secured our 19-ft. bow rider boat more securely to the dock, parked our truck close to the cabin and hoped for the best. My always prepared husband had a flashlight, a headlamp, and a chem stick, as well as safety gear. We stayed glued to the TV as the night fell, watching the weather reports anxiously.  Unfortunately, the wind picked up, the power went out, and, before long, we heard the tornado sirens.

Our area of the campground was not very populated. There was a young couple in the cabin next to us and a retiree with his dog in an RV. We all moved to the block bathhouse that was the designated tornado shelter. We hunkered down in the shower stalls and chatted nervously until we heard the roar. My husband held me and I held on tight to him as the wind and noise rose to a loud roar and then died away.

When all was quiet, we stepped out cautiously to survey the damage.  All of the cabins and RVs were mostly intact, with only minor damage. There were branches down and some metal awnings that had blown off of something lodged in the tree branches.  We ventured down to the dock to check on our boat. The cover was shredded as if giant claws had ripped through it. We ran the bilge pump to get rid of some rainwater. We were missing a bumper, but everything else was okay.  A huge pine branch had missed our boat trailer by a few feet.

We went back to our cabin.  The power was still out, so we spent a little time sitting in our truck, trying to get some news on the radio, to no avail. While we were there, a park employee came around on foot to check on us.  We assured him we were all okay and he moved on. We finally went to bed and were able to get a little sleep.

The next morning, we woke up early at first light and set out to survey the damage more thoroughly. Our area of the campground, on the peninsula, had a couple of huge trees down and pieces of metal canopies from the picnic tables were twisted around trees, but everything else seemed okay. We set out on foot toward the main area of the campground, near the entrance and the marina. All along the way, there were trees down, some blocking the road, which made us worry about how we were going to be able to leave.

As the road sloped uphill toward the campground entrance, we were shocked at the damage we encountered. The gatehouse was completely gone, nothing but the foundation and some scattered debris remained. Some mobile homes by the entrance were also completely destroyed. The shed behind the gatehouse that housed tractors and maintenance equipment was heavily damaged. The most startling sight was the forest of pine trees reduced to twisted stumps.

The entrance to the campground had been so beautiful. Previously, the narrow road had been completely shaded by overarching pines. A dense stand of pines had been all around the gatehouse. It was like driving into a serene, shaded, peaceful oasis from the hot Alabama sun. Now, all that was gone.  No shade at all remained on the entrance hillside. The bright sun shone down on acres of destruction.

Fortunately, the marina was at the bottom of the hill on the lakeside and relatively undamaged, as were all the RVs and trailers there.  Eventually, we were able to get our truck and boat trailer to the marina and our boat loaded. But while we were waiting for the road to be cleared, we got in our boat and drove around the lakeside across from us. That area of beautiful expensive vacation homes was heavily damaged with some large homes reduced to piles of rubble. The tornado had blown out the windows and raced through some homes front to back, leaving only roofless empty shells.

As we finally drove out of the campground to head home, we had to have hanging powerlines held up out of the way. We dodged the branches littering the road. We squeezed through the narrow pass cleared of tree trunks. It was a somber drive home to the Florida coast. We haven’t been back to Lake Martin since, but we do plan to go this summer when my husband returns home from deployment. I’m sad that it will be many years before nature can rebuild the beauty that was lost.  BUT, I am extremely grateful that no one in the campground was hurt.

Terri Pernia