Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘Bradley Co.’

love letters

Today I cried.

We returned to one of the houses from yesterday – the house with the little dogs.  Thankfully, they are now being well-cared for and waiting patiently for their injured owner to recover.

We were helping to clear a spot on the property for some heavy equipment to come in and do the big work – moving branches and pieces of lumber, sorting out scrap metal.

We also made an attempt to retrieve some salvageable items and personal belongings – somewhat unsuccessfully, as the debris pile was so incredibly broken.  It was literally like “trying to find a needle in a haystack”.   Yet here and there we would uncover a small porcelain figurine that was miraculously intact under a pile of cinderblocks and a steel door.  There was no pattern to what had survived and what had not.

found a quilt

My tears came when I found an old box of letters – postmarked from the late 1950’s, handwritten in beautiful scrolling penmanship on delicate paper – the kind that was once used for air mail.   They appeared to be love letters.  The salutation on one of the open pages began: “My Dearest Beloved …”  And I read no more, but gave them directly to the person collecting the personal possessions.

It’s difficult to handle the pieces of someone’s life – much more so than I ever could have expected.  We tried to save even the smallest items that were intact, because how can you possibly know what might have a special or sentimental meaning to the owner?  And to pick up something private and dear like an old letter … well, it can feel almost intrusive.

By mid-afternoon we had done as much as we could at the site, and left to help with a Red Cross van that was delivering hot meals to people in need.  The number of people who are able to stay in their homes but are without power (and often water) remains significant.  Eating cold sandwiches gets old pretty quickly.

our (empty) Red Cross van ... which was filled with boxes of hot meals prepared by the volunteers at Walker Valley High School

 While I am tired, and stinky, and a little bit sunburned  … I feel so incredibly fortunate.  The people I love are close and safe.  I can take a hot shower and drink a cold glass of water – with ice.  I have lights, and the little music box that was a gift from my boys is in its place on my bookshelf.  My bicycle is not wrapped around a tree.  I have clean clothes to change into, and a soft bed to sleep in.  I am truly blessed.

sifting through ruins

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.

there was no safe place - even in a basement

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).

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

path of destruction

Last week it was the car accident that left us a little shaken.  This week … the weather has made the car accident look almost trivial.

Yesterday was the day of disaster, weather-wise.  Starting at 8am and lasting all the way until midnight, we were one of the areas hard hit by the rolling wave of bad weather that hit the Southeast.  Nearly every hour we rode through thunderstorms, high winds, hail, torrential rain and even several tornados – it didn’t seem to want to stop.  I’d never experienced anything as continuous and non-stop, weather-wise.

yesterday, behind our house ... when the afternoon sky turns dark as night, it's not a good thing

At our house, we can once again count our blessings, as we only have one large tree down and a few missing roof shingles.  Many of our nearby neighbors were not so lucky.  As of this morning, there were at least 9 deaths in our county alone, and 15 in Tennessee.  Surrounding areas, including north Georgia suffered even more catastrophic damage to homes and buildings.

sadly, I was told that someone had been inside this home (Mt. Zion Rd.)

sadly, I was told that someone had been inside this home (Mt. Zion Rd.)

I took a ride today several roads close to home, and was shocked at the destruction I saw.  People are outside milling around, almost shell-shocked.  The southern end of our road was still closed as crews worked to clear trees and power lines.   Many are still without power; fortunately ours returned to us late last night.

just down the road ...

neighbors ... feeling shell-shocked

buried in debris

Schools have been cancelled until Monday.  Prom has been postponed until … ?  There is so much “cleaning up” to do almost everywhere … I finally stopped taking pictures of huge downed trees, because there were just too many of them.

One of the strangest experiences while riding around was finding random pieces of peoples’ lives strewn along the road – in places far removed from where the actual destruction took place.  A piece of someones kitchen countertop lying on the edge of the road, clothing and carpeting flung against a farm fence.  Pieces of metal roofs and siding hanging from utility lines – with no idea where they came from.

pieces of a household stuck on a fence

carpeting on fenceline and downed trees

I’ve inserted a slide show of some of the scenes from yesterday’s sky, to the nearby damage I saw today around our immediate area.  I haven’t even ventured into town, or into other areas of the county.  Hoping my local friends are all safe, and my prayers go out to the families who have lost loved ones and suffered devastating damage.  Godspeed.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.