Thursday, May 5, 2011


On Wednesday April 27th, 2011 the southeast saw one of the largest tornado outbreaks in our history. One tornado, an EF4 with winds of 195 MPH, passed about a mile and a half from where I was staying that night, my parent's house - and we didn't even hear it.

All day the waves of storms passed my parent's house to the north. My parents live in northwest Georgia, a few miles south of the TN state line. Its a very rural area technically called the Keith Community. [Its outside of a little town called Ringgold(population 2,242), outside a smaller town called Cohutta (population 582), and I have always simplified things by telling people I'm from Chattanooga, TN.] Before this storm cell hit near us, we watched the marathon storm coverage on our local TV station, and when a transformer on our street blew, we were able to listen to the same coverage on the local radio station. As it was too early in the season for the AC, all of our windows were open, and we felt as the air turned cool, warm, then cool again. Everything was calm and dry, so we took the nervous dog for a walk, and watched the teal blue-green sky light up orange with lightening in the clouds. When our local weather man, Paul Barys, said the storm was going to hit Ringgold in 8 minutes, we took our candles, and a grateful puppy, into our basement. When Paul said the danger had passed us, the puppy was hesitant to leave the safety of the basement, and went immediately and on his own to his safe place in the half bath upstairs. We didn't have a single large limb down, and our neighbors a street over had power.

We knew we were lucky, and immediately thought of my grandmother 20 minutes away, who lives near an area mentioned in earlier storm alerts. The last time a tornado was in our area, 1997, Grandmother had about 70 trees down on her property, but thankfully no damage to her house. We knew she would be worried, so Dad and I loaded a chainsaw and some gloves in the car to go check on her. We had NO IDEA that a major tornado had passed between out homes.

View Tornado in a larger map

The tornado that passed near us left a debris field nearly a mile wide, with a 1/2 mile section of barren land scattered with the bases of snapped trees in the center. We tried to reach my grandmother first via our normal route, London Lane, but the trees were piled 10-12 feet high across a road littered with power lines and the remnants of 3 large metal barns. Next we tried I-75 to our south, but the interstate was shut down. Then we tried the back roads north of our house, where we ran into a family who had lost everything and couldn't find a clear road to get to the hospital. We passed a stove laying on the side of the road, a school where you could smell natural natural gas, and drove over countless downed power lines. The devastation spanned almost 30 miles before we could find a point to cross. To make a long & frustrating story short. It took over 3 hours to discover that my grandmother was sound asleep and safe. (Side note...its time to teach Grandmother how to turn her cell phone on)

By the time we made our way home, over 200 trees on London Lane had been cleared to grant one lane of limited access. Even at 1:30am, you could tell that entire forests were gone. This was the place it smelled the strongest of Christmas trees. We drove through one mobile home that was thrown across the road and up a hill, and were thankful to later see the Katrina style markings that indicated no one was killed at this home. We didn't even see the mobile home in a tree. It was absolutely eerie to drive through this area that night. Everything seemed quiet, and so unbelievably sad. It was 5 days later before we were allowed to pass through again.

The roads are now almost always open, power has been restored, and other utility companies continue to restore services to this area. All in all there were 16 fatalities within 5 miles of my parents house...and we didn't even hear the tornado.

Here are some pictures I have taken from my iPhone going to and from work. While Dad still drives through a mobile home twice a day, they have taken one out of the trees.

I have to say this again. We were lucky.

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