Cleveland, Tennessee was hit by a massive tornado on April 27th that changed the lives of everyone in the area. Our region has not seen so much destruction in years, and it is amazing the way that most of the community pulled together to help those in need. Eight months later, and the effects can still be seen all over the area.
No one knew on the morning of April 27th how their lives would change forever by that night. Our personal experience was horrible, but there were others who had it even worse. We were some of the lucky ones, because we survived. April 27th began like any other rainy day, it was a little dreary and we were preparing for our daughter and my birthday coming up that weekend on the 1st of May. We knew that there was a storm coming, but never knew what it would hold. After two tornadoes already being spotted close by, I decided to go to my brother in laws house since his wife and two kids were home alone and had a basement. After being there for an hour, the power went out leaving us with no way to know what was going on. My husband and brother in law rushed in from work after even more funnel clouds had been spotted. After a few hours we had began to think the worst was over, until we received a text from a cousin suggesting we stay put, as they still had power and saw that there was another bad cell headed our way.
Dusk had begun to come and the rain had all but stopped. We were having fun spending time together and were thinking we must have missed the final cell coming through when it started to get windy again. Still we weren’t as worried, and figured that it was just the outside of the storm cell. We were completely wrong, and had no idea that everything was about to change. We had absolutely no warning that the tornado had touched down, plowing through Georgia and heading our way, but one little memory of information my grandfather had told me when I was young, saved our lives. While playing with my nephew I noticed that there were tons of flies on the ceiling. If you have ever paid attention to a fly, you know that they are constantly moving something, either their feet, wings, mouth, or walking in circles. There were upwards of 40 or so flies in the house, from having the doors and windows open from the heat with no air conditioning for the day, and not a single one of them were moving. It was then that I recalled something my grandfather said before a tornado had touched down in the valley near his house one summer, “when flies light and don’t move, duck for cover”.
I began screaming at my family to get in the basement, with no real time to explain why, other than I just knew something was coming. My brother in law didn’t believe me, but since I was the only one in the house that had been through a tornado before, my husband, sister in law, and her mother listened. My husband went out on the porch and was trying to drag his brother in the house and had barely shoved him down the steps and gotten the door closed when we heard the hail, the trees, and the roar of the wind. In quick thinking we got everyone in the middle hallway of the basement, piled all of our kids in the corner of the walls, and laid on top of them. We felt the house pick up a little, and could feel the wind through every crack and crevice, but having left the windows open, the pressure evened out and the house stayed put. My brother in laws house was at the time 4 houses down from ours, and we could tell that the main part of the tornado was right over our house, but it would be 2 hours before we could even get to our street to see just how close it had been.
Leaving the basement and walking out on the front porch, was like walking out of a war bunker after a bomb. Some houses were still standing and left near untouched (or so we thought until they began to notice that most of them were anywhere from 1-8 inches off of the foundations) and others were completely destroyed. We stood in the rain looking at our neighbors. Cars were everywhere, the only tree left standing the one in the front yard, which was twisted like a corkscrew, and the one in the back that had no limbs left on it. Glancing down at the sidewalk I noticed a little bird, whose wings were perfectly wrapped tight around its body, and its neck broken. The fear began to creep in, we had 3 cats outside when we left our home, and our dachshund puppy was at home in the bathroom. There was no way to even get to our house with power lines, cars, pieces of houses, and trees laying everywhere. We found our brother in laws dog hanging in a tree, and although beaten up, having been on a chain had kept him from being blown away.
After some crying and waiting for the flood that had followed the tornado to subside, my husband finally made it to our house, only to find our roof, our belongings, and both of our cars completely destroyed. A tree was laying in our daughters bedroom, rocks had been catapulted through the bricks of the house, and our entire road was gone. Five out of seven houses on our road had been badly damaged, two of which had to be completely torn down. We thought we were lucky and would just have to have repairs done, but once inspection took place, the entire back wall had came loose from the rest of the house and was rocking back and forth, as well as the house being 3 inches off of it’s foundation. Our dog was ok, and despite sending our cat into premature labor, two of the three kittens survived, and she was ok.
The surreal moment took over when we crossed the hill back to our house the next morning in the light, only to discover that the tornado had went up the hill behind our house, and jumped over our house, landing in our driveway, then took out every single house from there on in its path. There were more than 30 houses destroyed, and the hillside that had once been a subdivision, was now nothing but dirt and debris. We could not get any help until the area was declared a national disaster, and then we were extremely thankful for Red Cross and the Salvation Army. It was a few days before we were able to get through to our insurance company, and four days after the storm before we even realized that we hadn’t checked on the house we had been purchasing, which we found completely destroyed.
The next few months were made up of trying to recuperate. Ways were set up to find lost pictures, and our wedding photos and photos of our daughter as a baby were found, along with other personal effects. We moved, canceled our loan on the new house, and began the three month journey of trying to collect our insurance money. My husband was laid off due to lack of work after the tornado, and with so many people now homeless, finding a new home was hard. We finally found an apartment, got moved, and finally got a check for our loss, which didn’t even cover food, clothes, and furniture, little long everything else we lost. The community began to rebuild and houses were torn down, rebuilt, or put up for sale as is. Hundreds of families still haven’t gotten help from their insurance companies, and there are still two families living in tents in their front yards waiting for the insurance companies to finish their claims.
Getting renters insurance on our new apartment was hard, because of having an insurance claim in the last five years, despite it not being our fault. It took six months to find a company that would issue us an insurance policy, and we are still waiting for the depreciable amount that was taken out of our insurance claim to come. Although we were some of the lucky ones, no amount of help, money, or prayers can fix how terrified we are every time the wind blows. With every storm now we panic and pray that it’s not going to happen again. With each story of severe weather that hits the television, we pray for the families because for the first time, we really understand what it means to be affected. While the tornado took so much from so many people, including the lives of many, it also brought some comfort in knowing that as a community we pulled together and helped our neighbors, we got to know one another sitting near bonfires at night eating the food that Red Cross had provided, we got to know all the kids in the community, and we learned that although disaster does happen, we have to pull ourselves up and help each other through it. A new line of communication has been developed and those of us affected know how to get in touch with others now before or after anything happens, and most of all we have been reminded that we cannot control nature.