Mike Robson, a volunteer from Church of the Ascension in Cartersville, uses a chainsaw to help remove a 100-year-old oak toppled in this Adairsville yard by the recent tornadoes. Robson was among an estimated 600 volunteers who descended on Adairsville Saturday to help clean up in the wake of the storms. Church members Jamie Hamilton and Sam Hood also assist (left to right).
“I’m lucky,” Shane West said Saturday, standing outside his home here, the doors and windows blown out like sightless eyes.
“I’m not like those folks,” he said, gesturing to the crippled house across the street, “with a tree through the roof, or those folks” — gesturing next door — “with the roof blown off.”
West, 41, also was lucky to have a crowd of orange-vested volunteers from North Point Church in Adairsville sawing up debris, pitching logs into front end loaders and clearing the fallen pines and oaks from his property.
“They are wonderful people,” he said. “Without them I don’t know where we’d be. We couldn’t do this on our own.”
After the second tornado in two years mauled this North Georgia town 58 miles north of Atlanta Wednesday, killing one person and destroying hundreds of homes and businesses, more than 1,000 volunteers sprang into action Saturday in Adairsville and in neighboring Gordon County.
Before their day’s work began, volunteers assembled at the Adairsville Church of God early Saturday morning, when the temperature hovered around 19 degrees. They came from Stockbridge, Gainesville, Rome, Atlanta and areas much farther afield, including Alabama, Tennessee, North Carolina, Arkansas and Texas. “We’re a small town hit by something very large,” said church member Tonya Heard, who was handling the telephones.
Then the workers fanned out, dividing the town up into a grid and going door to door to offer help. They moved through a surreal landscape. Houses were stripped and pulverized. Insulation hung in trees like remnants of an unpleasant ticker-tape parade. Downed power lines coiled among the toppled trees.
As they worked, temperatures hovered in the mid-30s and a drizzling rain changed to sleet and, briefly, snow.
Connie Chester, who traveled with members of the Eagle’s Landing First Baptist Church in Stockbridge, was among scores of men and women on West’s street, steadily clearing branches and stacking them by the road, where they would be removed to a huge chipper.
A native of Slidell, La., Chester was impressed by the enormous outpouring of help from strangers in the aftermath of her own disaster, Hurricane Katrina, and felt moved to pay it forward after hearing of Adairsville’s troubles. “You can’t help but help,” she said.
Like her colleagues, Chester wore a safety-orange vest pinned with a card that certified she’d registered with the county as a volunteer. “This looks so familiar to me,” she said of the wreckage, a reminder of the 2005 catastrophe that leveled her church in Slidell and sent its 400 members packing. “It’s kind of discouraging to be here.”
The volunteers were recruited through social media and an old-fashioned telephone tree, and much of the help force was coordinated by Bartow Recovery, a faith-based group created in the aftermath of the county’s 2011 tornado.
“Tornadoes are supposed to come in the spring,” joked David Franklin, leader of Bartow Recovery. “We’re tired of this.”
While Franklin helped deploy 1,200 pairs of hand, the Foursquare Church prepared barbecue for 500 in the backyard of the Church of God; later, a group of Masons would be cooking hot dogs and hamburgers.
In addition to cooks and chain saw wielders, the volunteers included electrical workers and heavy equipment operators. “They’re using every skill they have,” Church of God pastor Ken Coomer said.
“Some of the people hit here were among the poorest people here,” Franklin noted. He was expecting a “crisis after the crisis,” when those who already had very little are obliged to pick up the pieces and move forward with less.
Those who want to help can contact Bartow Recovery at Bartowrecovery.org or the Red Cross at www.redcross.org.
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