About two weeks ago a set of tornadoes tore through the state of Tennessee leaving over 50 people dead and over 120 homes destroyed. Given the state of this disaster, AmeriCorps*NCCC was approached by several relief efforts asking for a team of 10 individuals to come up and help with disaster relief for 30 days. I volunteered to be one of these ten.
I am no longer with in Bay St. Louis, MS with my beloved Blue 7. Instead, I am a part of a 10-person composite team that drove up from the Gulf Coast this past Monday to help with disaster relief.
Today was my first day on-site and I could not believe my eyes. I have never seen anything like this before. Driving through Macon County (one of the poorest and hardest hit counties in Tenneseee) you could just see the merciless path the tornado took, tearing up homes, businesses, any tree or structure in its way. Coming from the Gulf Coast, it is amazing to see the difference between hurricane and tornado damage. Areas hit by hurricanes look like they have been beaten around in a washing machine--rotting, crumbling damage. Tornado damage is a much cleaner cut, yet devastating nonetheless. Tornadoes pick things up clear in their path, sweep them cleanly off the ground and smash them down in another location.
Our first job today was at an elderly man's home where his shed had been swept cleanly off its foundation and thrown 20 feet into his backyard, smashing to the ground, caving in on its belongings. Working with an AmeriCorps Emergency Response Team, we worked on breaking down the shed, salvaging the items inside, and then clearing it out of his yard, piece by piece.
Thankfully all the man had lost was this shed, but it still effected me nonetheless. Pulling out all of his old tools and lawn furniture and reducing them to debris felt sad--watching one's belongings turn into garbage by no fault of their own. However, as I have started to learn from those effected by Katrina--stuff is just stuff, and you had better come to terms with that because you just never know when it could be lost forever. I visited my godmother in New Orleans before heading up to Tennessee and she gave me a good piece of advice, having lost her home herself in Katrina. She told me, "I think everyone should take a walk through their house and identify about 10 things that would absolutely kill them to lose. Identify those 10 things and come to terms with the impermanence of everything else. Let your stuff be just that...stuff." In remembering her words, I let go of my sadness as I diposed of his ancient newspaper collection.