When I was a little boy I remember my Aunt Sis and Uncle Waymond losing their home as tornadoes ripped through Xenia, Ohio.
Tornadoes for me with that exception were something I saw on television news or in movies but they were not something that I had a first-hand experience with.
As I went to a meeting on the morning of April 27 in Rossville, Ga., it was apparent to me that I was on the heels of a tornado or very high winds that knocked down trees and stole the power source from the traffic signal lights and of course the government building where I was to meet with representatives from around the area relating to transportation planning.
As I saw the wind damage, I thought how lucky I was again to be just behind the incident.
As the day progressed, storm systems threatened, and by 7:30 p.m. my normal watching of “The Andy Griffith Show” was halted by an apparent downing of the receiver or sender that provided local signals to our Charter cable. So with no local news service, our little community was in the dark to what was headed our way.
My parents had taught me as a kid to open windows when weather threatened and I had gone as far as opening my doors.
It was past eight when I felt a change, heard the sound of train and stuck my head out the back door to see a monster headed towards our subdivision.
It seemed the black sky was just reaching down and touching the ground as far as I could see. The only way I knew that it was a tornado was by looking up in the sky and seeing what appeared to be the hood of a car and other debris flying high in the air.
I quickly moved into the interior bathroom praying and awaiting for it to come through.
For some reason, the behemoth turned after destroying our interstate commercial district headed across the center of Ringgold devastating landmarks and ripping houses from existence. It then proceeded across White Oak Mountain and continued through Cherokee Valley and into Apison, Tenn. This became the longest tornado on the ground ever recorded.
At points the destruction was a mile wide. Our community lost eight cherished members and hundreds of lives were shattered by home and business destruction. We lost schools, city and county facilities.
We are just one story on a night that reached across the Southern U.S. changing the face of community after community and family after family.
I cannot say enough positive things about the first responders – police, fire, paramedics – that worked tirelessly through the night serving our community. I worked with survivors myself until slightly before 3 a.m. before catching a few hours of sleep and returning to emergency command the next morning. So, I had a first-hand opportunity to see or hear of many of the heroic actions taken to assist.
I also want to commend the great sense of community that came from neighbor helping neighbor – everything from searching a devastated house for survivors to bringing a neighbor to safety or shelter. In the darkness, in the wet, between downed power lines, automobiles hanging in the air, in only what could be described as a war zone, people stood up and became more than I am sure some ever thought they could be.
In waves came state workers, utility workers, relief organizations, church groups, civic groups and so many individuals reaching out to help. We could never know all the stories; we could never know all the kindnesses shared. I pray that every community received the outpouring that blessed Ringgold.
Our community has a long road ahead to rebuild the lives of those who are uninsured, underinsured or without means to start again, and while FEMA will provide some support the majority of this effort will remain in the hands of people willing to give time, resources, money to create new opportunities from the disaster.
A note from Randall Franks following the tornado disaster
Dear Friends, I want to thank all of you who have inquired about my well being since last Wednesday’s tornado system that devastated so many of our states. I am privileged to say while I was in close proximity to the F4 tornado that ripped through our community, I am safe.I have been serving with the leadership in our county and city trying to assist in any way that I am needed to pull our community back together.
Pray for Ringgold and Catoosa County, Pray for our families that now have no home; pray for our families that lost loved ones.There has been a tremendous outpouring of support for our community, if you wish to assist in some way; I want you to feel free to do so. If you are close enough and wish to volunteer, the emergency response team put in place a volunteer coordinator system that is accepting names, numbers and areas of expertise. There have been over a thousand offers, but this will be a long process and it must be organized and coordinated to serve the well the safety and well being of the residents and as well those volunteering.
We are within a couple of days of setting up a relief fund that will centrally receive donations to focus the money best where it is needed.
Currently we are asking cash donations be sent to the three assistance centers Ringgold United Methodist Church – 7884 Nashville Street, Poplar Springs Baptist Church – 422 Poplar Springs Road, and Cherokee Valley Baptist Church – 1495 Cherokee Valley Road as well as our Christ Chapel Share and Care Mission – 281 Inman Street which also serves as a local food bank year round. All of these are Ringgold, Ga. 30736. If you wish to donate to the main fund call the help line in a couple to see if it is set up yet.
We are currently moving into the rebuilding phase, so needs are becoming more in the direction of building materials, you may call the help line below to inquire about the current needs if you wish to help in that way.If you have a need in Catoosa County call the Catoosa County and Ringgold help line
Thank you so much for the outpouring of support and love. If I have not contacted you directly, I hope you will please understand, I have tried to reach all who have reached out, but I have had to focus my attention here. With Sincere Thanks,