No matter how many pictures of this tornado-damaged area you see, it is not the same as actually being there!
We were contacted by our disaster relief coordinator at church last Sunday and asked if we would be willing to join the chain saw team to help out in Cleveland, TN. Cleveland is east of Chattanooga, 5th largest industrial city in Tennessee. We had not heard about the damage caused on Wednesday, April 27, in East Tennessee. In a 12-hour period, six tornadoes hit this town. We worked in the light orange-colored section.
We heard about the storm damage in Alabama…. this was the same storm that kept on going, and going, and going!!
West Franklin Baptist Church rented a van, so all seven of us were able to go together in one vehicle. We fully expected to sleep on the floor in the gym, but the Lord provided a great host and hostess that offered their extra rooms, accommodating all of us.
We ate all but one dinner and all of our breakfast meals at the high school cafeteria (school was closed for the week due to the disaster). School reopens on Monday, so the disaster relief will be moving to Lee University campus to continue to serve the community.
We usually got a sack lunch at the Waterville Baptist Church, were the staging area was located.
Many times during the day, folks would stop by to offer drinks and snacks as we worked…. definitely did not go hungry!
The properties we were assigned had already been taken care of, so we drove around a bit to find homeowners that needed help in removing trees from their yards. Most had already got help in getting the front cleared for entry into their homes.
During our drive around, we saw some of the devastation.
Seeing vehicles buried or completely damaged,
boats completely unrecognizable
and homes without roof or walls, with rooms still intact (and the clock on the wall still runs!)
all located in blocks with flattened homes, makes you realize the strength and power of these funnels!
Neighborhood convenience store was completely destroyed, with sodas, beer, and other items strewn across the parking lot!
And toys in the neighborhoods strewn as well .
Imagine….your house completely demolished, but the fifth-wheel still there!
We were told the house across from this white house was lifted up and dropped behind it… and the young couple and their young child crawled out from under it, and survived!!
We were soon able to help five adjoining property owners.
The first property owner we helped out was an elderly lady, Betty, that had a very large pine tree that had fallen,
The birds kept coming around…wondering what had happened to their homes as well.
The huge root popped back into the ground when the trunk was cut off!
On the second day there, it started raining after lunch, so we quit about two hours early. We got back just as our hostess was going out to help make lunches for the following day. So I joined her and others at the First Baptist Church to make 110 sandwiches and pack lunches.
The First Baptist Church will be hosting one of the schools beginning Monday, as it was totally destroyed. We did not see the former school.
The second was just next door. The property owner was Robert, “a little old man” who could barely walk unassisted and was a little confused by all that was happening, and what he should do. One of the trees on the first property had fallen over and hit a shed behind the carport.
A couple of boards were entangled in the tree.
As with all of the properties, teamwork was key to getting the job done!
We were amazed there was no damage to the roof of the shed!
When we looked across the street from these two properties, we were amazed at the huge mass of trees fallen on what appeared to be a vacant lot. Next to it was our third property. With six trees laying in his back yard, Harry kept telling us that others needed more help than he did! We agreed, but told him we could not help them…. they had lost everything, and we were there to help those needing help with their yard. He was very grateful. He even got his electricity turned back on by the end of the week…. can you imagine 10 days without electricity?
We were encouraged when a group from Lee University stopped and offered us water, and stayed to help!!
We also had a little fun, bowling with the logs!
Next door to him, the landlord came by to look at her property. She had no insurance and four trees laying on top of her house, and more on the ground. It looked daunting to me, but after discussion, the crew chiefs felt we could handle the job.
The trees were holding each other up so far, a ladder was needed to “attack” the limbs!
Notice the 2×4 through the twisted trunk of the tree!! We tried to get it out but it was really jammed in there!!
After a closer look, it was determined that the last log needed heavy equipment to remove it, and it was too risky and dangerous for us to tackle.
Partly through the clean up, the renter’s son came to remove more belongings, and told us he had a friend that would come and cut up the logs. That saved us a lot of time and energy!
In the meantime, Harry had told his neighbor, Gerry (whose wife has liver cancer) about us coming and that maybe we could help him as well. Turned out the vacant lot across the street from our first two, and adjacent to our third property, was actually his back yard and he had a buried driveway and mangled shed under the mess! So we cleared his back driveway so he could get to the shed. He told us that he had talked to volunteers, but all were overwhelmed by it and said they could not do it. The focus of first responders is to get the property owner access to their homes and clear the immediate area around the house, rather than the yard itself, especially an empty lot. But we all felt like it was where the Lord wanted us. He was actually pretty overwhelmed and it would have taken him years, what we accomplished in a day. We also wanted to encourage Harry, since he could not figure out why he was there, when others had died, and he was old, very depressed, useless and discouraged with life. Going through something like that, you go through the same steps as you do when grieving. He was at the step where guilt had set in and he was having a hard time getting past it. He was tickled he could help his neighbor by getting help for him through us.
We focused first on the driveway, as some of the crew finished up at the fourth property, some came to start the clearing of the driveway.
Randall had a hard time getting started, there was so much vegetation twisted and tangled together!!
Some of the Lee University group came back, as did our hostess, and Harry’s sister. So we had extra help with the work again, and were able to accomplish more on that lot than we thought possible!
When the driveway was cleared, we all moved on to the rest of the property.
We even uncovered the shed, which had been lifted up, turned around and dropped back down!
It seemed we were just moving the mess, and making more piles; but this time, the piles were by the road waiting for the road crews to come by to either pick up or mulch. Every street was lined with six foot high and six foot deep piles of debris, tree limbs, and leaves!
Piles from the first and second properties,
and fifth property,
We appreciate your prayers this past week, for us as well as those who we were privileged to help! We were able to share our faith with them and witness to them, and hopefully plant a seed.
We did a lot of pulling, lifting, hoisting, and dragging!
But it is always more of a blessing to us to serve those in need.