April Ifkovits vividly remembers the night of April 9, 1998.
“I had gotten up to close the windows and I could see the clouds because they were orange above the street lights,” she said.
Ifkovits was one of more than 75 people who showed up Sunday, April 8, at the Kingsley Racquet and Swim Clubhouse to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the tornado that shook north DeKalb County. The tornado struck Dunwoody the hardest, though, resulting in one death, hundreds of homes destroyed and damaged, and the mowing down of thousands and thousands of trees of the suburban community.
“There was thunder and lightning and the trees were swaying … and then the trees were all leaning in one direction,” she said while looking over pictures of the tornado’s destruction on display at the clubhouse.
Ifkovits said when she saw the huge trees in her yard on Delverton Drive leaning in one direction, she knew something fierce was coming. She and her husband grabbed their small children from their bedrooms.
“We could hear things hitting the house as we were running to the basement. The lightning was so bright it was lighter than it was dark,” she remembered. The next morning, they saw where 27 of the large trees in their yards were destroyed and a large branch had crashed through her son’s bedroom, above the bed where he was asleep just hours before.
“It was like a big lawn mower had gone over the tops of trees,” she said. The damage to her home was not as major as her neighbors and she and her family stayed in the home while it underwent renovations. She still lives there today.
“We like our neighbors,” she said. “We were fortunate.”
At the commemoration sponsored by the city of Dunwoody, the Dunwoody Preservation Trust and the Dunwoody Crier, people with similar stories to Ifkovits looked over old newspaper clippings, poster boards with pictures of the destruction and shared stories of how everyone in the Dunwoody community came together — friends, neighbors and strangers — to rebuild and restore the community they loved.
A panel of guests with Liane Levetan, who was DeKalb CEO at the time of the tornado; former members of DeKalb’s Public Works Department Tom Brown and Tom Black; and DeKalb firefighter Shane Dobson shared the memories of that time about how the DeKalb County government came together clear out debris, place hundreds and hundreds of tarps on homes, keep residents safe during such a vulnerable time and simply be there with people at such a tough time.
“This was a real disaster; it was not a small thing,” Levetan said. “We were feeling the anxiety of the people in Dunwoody.”
Mayor Denis Shortal presented a proclamation to Melanie Williams of the Dunwoody Preservation Trust declaring April 8, 2018, as “Dunwoody Stands Strong Day in honor of the tremendous efforts numerous Dunwoody residents, organizations, community members and DeKalb County service providers.”
The Dunwoody Preservation Trust was key in raising some $250,000 to use to buy and plant 20,000 trees in the city to replace a fraction of those lost.
“This is why all of us are so proud to live in Dunwoody,” Shortal said of how residents came together to help each other after the devastation.
Kathy Florence, who has recorded much of the history of the tornado, said at the event that “our community came through.”
“And it set the tone for how we wanted our city to be,” she said.
Heyward Wescott, who helped organize the event, shared his story of how his house “exploded” over him when the tornado hit.
“This is not a celebration of a disaster but a celebration of how a community came together to help each other,” he said.