Through a chance and random conversation, I ended up with a volunteer crew trying to help several local families clean up and sort the the ruins of their homes. As the damage assessment throughout the Bradley County continues, the need for helping hands grows. As of this afternoon, I am now a “spontaneous” volunteer for the Red Cross (and hope to become a regular volunteer in the near future). I am scheduled to help in whatever way they may need me over the next few weeks.
I also want to make it clear that while I did have my camera with me, I was reluctant to even take it out of my bag in respect for the privacy of the families we were working with. However, after some time together, several of the families almost encouraged us to use cameras; they seemed to want to “document” the scene, saying it was “important for other people to see” what had taken place. And so, when I had moments, I shot as respectfully as I could.
While men with chainsaws and BobCats worked to clear the heavy debris and tree limbs, several other women and I helped clean up the cuttings and helped a few homeowners sort through the rubble to reclaim items that could be salvaged. I have to confess that it was heartbreaking at times – seeing cherished pieces (and simply ordinary pieces) of a family’s like strewn about like an afterthought.
On one property, I met an elderly woman who was combing through the debris at her son’s house – which had been completely demolished. She seemed to need someone to listen to her – she talked and told me so many details of what had happened, what her son’s house had been like, where they had been when the storm struck. How a basement didn’t help. And the terrible aftermath. It was as if she needed to verbalize the experience, and I can only hope that I helped her in a small way by being there to quietly listen.
One of the most difficult moments of the day for me was finding 3 small dogs hiding in the ruins of a demolished home. One of the neighbors told me that the woman who lived there and owned the dogs had been injured and had been taken to the hospital. It’s unclear whether or not she had any family to come and retrieve and care for the dogs. So I went and got some dog food and bowls of water, and the neighbor and I worked on making sure they would be cared for until they can be reunited with their owner. (The Red Cross is also working on pet rescue in the area.)
As of today, the county schools will be closed through May 6th. Two of the elementary schools sustained significant damage and will not reopen before the end of the school year.
My son’s high school will be opening their doors next week to serve meals and allow residents and out-of-area volunteers to use the showers. My son, and many of his fellow students will be volunteering to help through efforts coordinated by the school.
As I write this, so many thoughts are swirling through my mind. I haven’t seen a moment of the whole Royal Wedding – and I don’t care. I apologize for not replying/responding to friends who commented on the previous post – I thank you for your concern. I don’t think I will be taking or posting any more photographs of the damage – it almost makes my eyes ache with sadness to shoot these scenes. (I would never cut it as a photojournalist, apparently).
I also know that there are other areas of the Southeast, from AL to GA, and even within Bradley County, that have suffered far more than the destruction I’ve seen in a few small areas here. My heart aches for all of them, and I hope that anyone who reads this can reach out – to volunteer, or donate supplies or funds to relief agencies. Please help in whatever way you can.
These are the last photos … from today’s efforts. (You are in my prayers tonight, Mrs. Johnson).