April 27, 2011
Our friend, Jeri Schey, was here visiting from RI and we few plans for the day as we intended to make a visit to Dollywood the next day. Before noon there was a report of a tornado near Chattanooga, and we became glued to the TV as the local stations reported on more tornados in our area. In fact the only thing on the local TV stations was the weather. I did go outside about 5:00pm and watched as a tornado touched down in Collegedale, which is only about 3 miles, by air, from us.
Around 6:30 pm the weatherman, who correctly predicted tornados all day long, pointed out a cell down in GA that he said looked very much like a potential tornado producing cell. The predicted movement of the cell was directly at us. We continued to watch as radar showed the cell moving closer and closer, still coming right at us. When the power went out Mary and Jeri headed for the basement. I went outside to watch. About 8:25, when I saw a huge very dark cloud coming from the southwest and making a noise that sounded to me like constant thunder (but I saw no lighting), I too headed for the basement. Seconds later the storm tried hard to suck our house right up in the air. It was all over in about 30 seconds. When we came up from the basement I knew that it had been a bad storm, as I noticed some green pine trees against the living room windows. Just then, three of our neighbors came bursting through our front door saying “Our house is gone! Our house is gone!” and it was gone – completely gone. What had been, just seconds before, a nice two story house was now just a jumble of rubble strewn over what had been their back yard. The house directly across the street from ours was only half there and the one below them had no roof at all.
The storm was rated an EF4 tornado, and started near Ringgold, GA, tore up a strip about ½ mile wide for 35 miles, and killed 17 people! Thank God all the people on our street were still alive. Eight people who lived about two miles southwest of us died that evening. Two of the neighbors who completely lost their home had minor injuries, and one had an injury which required 18 stitches to close.
After making sure everyone on our street was accounted for, I got my chainsaw and went out in the light rain to help cut the trees that blocked us from getting our injured neighbors to the hospital. There were at least four men (working in two directions) with chainsaws and several others helping pull the logs off to the side of the road, but it still took us until nearly 1:00 am before we were able to make a path wide enough for one car to get up our hill. Jana and Eric were in the second car up the hill and Eric drove the injured neighbors to the hospital.
At about 2:00 am I told Mary that I could not sleep and was going to take a walk down the hill on Candies Creek road to check out the tree damage there. Blair road was clear down to Candies Creek, but Candies Creek road was blocked with trees. I met three firemen who had come through the tangle of trees and talked with them a bit. I decided that I would go through the trees to see what was beyond them. The firemen had told me it was pretty dense but I was sort of able to follow their path in the trees. After climbing through the trees for about 10 minutes, I decided to turn around and go back. There were just too many trees across the road. When I came out of the trees onto a clear road I saw trucks and men working up the road. They had not been there when I had entered the trees! I could not figure out how they had gotten there while I was in the trees. I decide to walk up to where they were working and even asked one of them where I was. He told me I was at the corner of Candies Creek and California Lane. Even then it took me a bit of time to figure out that instead of going back when I was in the trees, I had gotten turned around and finished going through the trees. So I went back through the trees and came out on a bare road again and saw the men still working up the road. I had gotten turned around again! I knew there was a yellow line down the center of the road, so I decided to follow it through the trees. Even though it was harder following the yellow line, it got be through the trees and back home. I was pretty wet and a bit scratched up from climbing in the trees, but was able to sleep when I got home.
All the nine houses on our street were damaged to some extent. Ours, which had the next to the least amount of damage, was estimated by the insurance company to have only $53,000 worth of damage. (Of course, they did not pay us $53,000!) Our trailer had a couple of pine trees up against it, and our van and Mary’s Buick had some damage. (Both Cadillacs were in the garage and not damaged.) All of that can get fixed reasonably soon. What can’t be fixed, at least not in our lifetime, are the trees that are gone or need to be gone. We lost nine trees in front of the house and most of our tall trees in the back. We really miss the shade those trees gave us!
Outside, our house needed new shingles, new siding, new garage doors, and new gutters. The roof is done. We have new garage doors. The siding, which I elected to do myself, is done and the gutters are scheduled sometime near the end of January.
Inside, the house is still in the process of getting fixed. Before the tornado, we had talked about putting in some hardwood and tile floors, so this seemed like a good time to get the floors redone. So far, the living room and dining room and hall have new hardwood - white oak with walnut border. The kitchen , laundry room, and master bath have new tile floors and the master bath has a new tile shower. We are planning new carpet for the bedrooms. There is still and lot of painting that needs doing and some minor repairs here and there, but all will get done – most likely later not sooner!