Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Sudden horror near the campaign trail

I saw this article today and decided to reprint it - it's not about politics, but rather a day in a small Southern town where a community shares in a sadness together.

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By Bob Greene
CNN Contributor


ABOARD THE CNN ELECTION EXPRESS (CNN) -- On the morning of last week's presidential debate, I walked, as I had every day since arriving in Mississippi, along Highway 6 in Batesville.

William "Son" Hudson, 66, was the director of Panola County's emergency operations.

It's a stretch of road with local businesses and chain fast-food restaurants along both sides, and no sidewalks, just grass and gravel. I had gotten to know the businesses by name and by sight: Yolanda's Tax Service, Smith Cleaners, Mary Nell's Blossoms, Mike's Bargains, dozens more.

Batesville is a town of about 7,000 residents some 30 minutes from the University of Mississippi in Oxford, where the debate was to be held. By late morning of debate day, the temperatures were already in the 80s, and the sun was unrelenting. I was thinking, as I walked, what a pleasant and peaceful routine this had become.

At the East Oaks Shopping Center, a small strip of shops across from the local Wendy's, I turned down a driveway toward the perimeter of the storefronts, just to make the walk a little longer. As I headed back up to Highway 6, I heard the sound of what I thought was a fender-bender.

Then my eyes became unable to fully take in what they were seeing.

A huge log-hauling truck, at least 45 feet long, was tipping toward its right side. It carried dozens of gigantic freshly cut hardwood logs, each 30 to 40 feet long. Their combined weight, I was told later, was tens of thousands of pounds.

The truck rolled fully onto its side. The logs broke their bonds. One by one, they fell to the earth. They seemed to be tumbling in slow motion. The sound was like terrible drumbeats.

They fell and fell. And then I saw that they were falling onto a light pickup truck that had been traveling the other way on the road.

This was in the heart of the small town in the middle of a lovely day. I ran toward the accident; as I did so, a man in a red T shirt -- the driver of the log hauler -- crawled from the cab of his big truck and, as if in shock, walked to one of the poles holding up the East Oaks Shopping Center sign. He dropped to his knees. He put his face in his hands and then rested his forehead against the pole, as if praying.

People were beginning to emerge from nearby stores. Several of us tried to get close to the pickup truck that had been crushed, to attempt to help. The pickup truck, and much of the road, was covered by the enormous logs.

All we were able to see through the space between the logs was some wording on the door of the pickup: "Panola County Emergency Management."

Some local residents began to say: "That's Son's pickup." Later I found out that "Son" was the nickname in town for William Hudson, 66, the director of the county's emergency operations. He had just happened to be on Highway 6 on this morning.

Police and fire responders began to arrive. At first they seemed shocked by the scale of the calamity that had come to their town.

Within seconds, it became much worse for them: One at a time, they each began to realize that they knew the man in the crushed truck. Many of them were his friends.

They tried to crawl through the logs. They called toward the driver's-side window. "Can you hear me?" they shouted. "Can you hear me?"

Men with chain saws climbed on top of the obscene jumble of massive logs and desperately began cutting at them. The sound was one you would expect to hear deep in a forest. But these logs were horizontal, not vertical, and this was in the middle of a town, and the men were making little progress.

It seemed that every emergency vehicle in that part of Mississippi soon arrived: Batesville Police, Panola County Sheriff's Department, Batesville Fire Department, Mississippi Highway Patrol. And always, the wailing sound of power saws straining to cut through logs.

You could tell that the rescuers feared they had no chance. William "Son" Hudson was dead beneath the Mississippi sun in the town he was devoted to protecting. Up the road in Oxford, a debate designed to help determine the next president of the United States would, after nightfall, be ready to commence. It had suddenly ceased to matter as much in Batesville, a place now wounded and forever changed.

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go HERE for original story

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