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BECK: Feeling fortunate after the storm
tornado 2021
A reader sent in this photo of the late afternoon tornado in west Newton County Friday. - photo by Special Photo

When I turned to social media on New Year’s Eve, shortly after learning a tornado had touched down in west Newton County, I was a bit surprised by the first thing I saw.

It wasn’t an array of photos conveying the storm’s aftermath. 

It wasn’t a picture of the vast funnel cloud overshadowing parts of our community. 

It wasn’t even a photo of the two vehicles that this EF-1 twister decided to take for a spin in the parking lot of Chick-fil-A.

It was Marcello Banes.

Yes, Newton County’s chairman was conducting a report via Facebook Live that resembled a TV news reporter. He conducted those reports to inform the community about what happened, how the county was responding to the situation and what residents needed to do. He put together similar videos several times throughout the night, constantly working to update the people.

My initial thought was, “Is he crazy? Why on Earth is he out there in the middle of all of that?”

Typically, in these types of events, government leaders like the president, governors and mayors don’t show up to the scene until the next day — at the earliest. 

Banes was on site at the intersection of Brown Bridge and Salem Road just minutes after the tornado swept through the area, as were our county’s first responders.

Say what you will about Banes. I know many have voiced frustration when it comes to his P-Card spending habits, or even how Board of Commissioners meetings may be conducted. 

But whereas I believe everyone should be held accountable and even called out when necessary, I also believe credit should be given where credit is due. 

In my eyes, Banes’ desire and ability to lead our community and his love for Newton County was on full display New Year’s Eve, and it was a sight to behold.

Banes, in addition to the response of our county’s great emergency personnel, was spectacular and showcased what a community’s response to a natural disaster should look like.

• • •

The tornado ripped through Newton as I watched my beloved Crimson Tide race past Cincinnati and into the College Football Playoff Championship game — completely unaware of the destruction taking place only a few miles down the road.

But how could I have known? 

The skies were relatively clear. 

No news stations broke in via my television to broadcast the storm was headed my way. 

I, as many others have told The Covington News this week, received no warning or alert from my phone. 

I heard no sirens. 

In fact, all I heard beyond the walls of my Rocky Plains home was the constant blasts of fireworks from my neighbors.

As it’s been said many times this week, our community is fortunate the tornado’s impact wasn’t greater, especially considering the apparent lack of communication concerning the threat of severe weather. 

We should be extremely grateful that only minor injuries were reported and there was no loss of life.

As you’ve read in our midweek edition of The Covington News, the county is reportedly now working to address the issues with our sirens and alert system to ensure when another severe weather threat comes our way, everyone will be prepared. 

In the meantime, get yourself a weather radio if you don’t have one already, and download the CodeRED application onto your smart phone so we can all stay safe and ahead of the storm.

Taylor Beck is editor and publisher of The Covington News. He may be reached at