by Malcolm Butler
I think anyone who was living in Ruston in April of 2019 has a story.
Some more harrowing than others.
April 25 of 2019 … the day the Piney hills of north Louisiana lost a lot of its pine.
Growing up, I spent a lot of time on Pinewood Lane. 406 Pinewood Lane to be exact.
My maternal grandparents – Roland and Ellen Lucia Abegg – lived at the two-story, white house for more than 50 years. Pinewood Lane was a family-oriented street, probably like many of the neighborhoods in Ruston.
Dorothy Jewell. Terry and Jeanie Burns. Ed and Dawn Pinkston. And more. Plenty of great neighbors and plenty of us kids running around the dead-end street for decades. Whiffle ball games. Basketball games on the goal at the end of the street. Capture the flag. A big time was had by all on many a day and night growing up.
Pinewood Lane, for those that don’t know, sits just off of Barnett Springs Drive. Take a right on Tech Drive and then a left at the top of the first big hill and you are on Pinewood Lane.
And like most of the university hills area — ranging back into Maple and around Cypress Springs – , the EF3 tornado that ripped through the night sky around 1:45 a.m. on April 25 made a lasting impact.
It was a long day for all of us. Mine started around 2 a.m. when I drove down Tech drive dodging huge blocks of concrete and power lines and various debris and stopped in the parking lot at the completely ravaged Lady Techster Softball Complex.
I literally was the first person on that scene. I was in shock.
I called Adam McGuirt, our Associate AD for Internal Operations at the time and tried to describe what I was seeing. I didn’t do a very good job and had to send him dark photos. He immediately called me back. I called Mark Montgomery, our former softball coach to let him know. Within 30 minutes, Adam and Mark and hundreds of Tech students and university administrators were walking around that area.
It was like something out of a movie. I guess.
I remember thinking about 15 minutes after I arrived at the site that I didn’t see any emergency vehicles. Where were the police. And my next thought was … if they aren’t here, how bad were other parts of Ruston?
Unfortunately, we would soon find out as the sun came up. The damage was so extensive and devastating to so many houses and businesses and most unfortunately even two lives.
Due to the obligations of my job within the Tech Athletics Department, I didn’t get a chance to drive over to Barnett Springs until that evening. Although my family had sold the wonderful old house years before when both of my grandparents had passed away, Pinewood Lane and that area of Ruston still holds great memories for me.
So when my eyes were able to finally focus on that one small stretch of devastation, it brought on a wave of emotions. I parked my jeep at the edge of the street as pine trees were still blocking most of it. I walk up the street through a maze of trees and branches and debris, almost fog of reality.
Every house on the street was damaged. Some so severely they would be totaled. One of the wonderful elements of that part of Ruston was the same thing that led to so much devastation that night: the 100-foot plus, 100-year old Pine trees that blanket our neck of the woods.
I remember when we would have ice storms growing up, you could hear the branches at night breaking off of the Pine trees. It sounded like gun shots. And every time you heard one you hoped the branch wasn’t coming down on top of the house or through the roof.
I always worried about a tornado. I knew if one ever came through our residential areas, there simply would not be room for them to come down without causing so much destruction to houses. I was unfortunately right.
Three years later, I still find myself visiting Pinewood Lane every so often to see how its healing. But Pinewood Lane and so much of the Barnett Springs, Maple, Robinette and Cypress Springs areas will never look the same. You simply can’t replace what was lost that night: pine trees, houses, and even for some people I have talked to a sense of security.
I think Pinewood Lane is a microcosm of our town.
It took a haymaker that night. But it survived. It rebuilt. And the people adapted.
And I think the rainbow that came up after that horrible night has been a renewed sense of community.
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