Churches help tornado survivors

Christina Diehl saw the Gallatin tornado from her front porch, and that was enough to send her inside.

BY HEATHER MOYER | GALLATIN, Tenn. | April 11, 2006


Christina Diehl saw the Gallatin tornado from her front porch, and that was enough to send her inside.

"It was big," she said, and then cupped her hands to make a softball-sized circle, "And we had huge hail like this all over our yard." She and her daughter ran into the hallway, as the tornado tore through homes only a few streets away.

A member of the Hartsville Pike Church of Christ in Gallatin, Diehl is now helping distribute relief supplies and food out of the church to the affected families.

Members of the church quickly assembled Friday evening to see how they could help, and the facility has been bustling ever since. Members are making meals, organizing donations and meeting every need they can.

The twister that hit Gallatin on Friday killed nine people and damaged or destroyed some 900 homes across Sumner County. Hartsville Pike's pastor, the Rev. Mark Hagewood, said his life has not stopped since the tornado. One hour after a tornado tore through the Nashville suburb of Gallatin, Hagewood was climbing over debris to get into one neighborhood where members of his congregation lived.

When he came upon the home of a parishioner, he was shocked to see only one small section of the home still standing. Fortunately, that was the one place the homeowner had gone. "He was in the closet and that was the only place that had survived," said Hagewood.

The tornado destroyed the homes of three church members and severely damaged as many as 10 others, he said. His church is now providing whatever those families need.

The distribution of supplies has been a learning experience, said Hagewood, but there's a good point to the fact that some of it has been chaotic at times. "That has allowed for us to be flexible and adjust to the needs. The needs change hourly. Friday night we couldn't get enough tarps in here to give away. On Saturday when we got more in, we couldn't give them away. Now we can't get enough boxes for the families. People picking through the debris need something to put their belongings in, so the boxes have been in incredible demand."

Hagewood said the relief has been supported by Church of Christ Disaster Relief out of Nashville, which has sent in funds and supplies. Other donations have poured in as well. "The donations have been overwhelming in way of food, labor and money," he said.

The church is also a meeting point for volunteers who have been going into the community to remove debris and cut down trees. Monday afternoon, the sound of chainsaws and heavy equipment echoed through one neighborhood near the church. Volunteers from the church and the local school district were moving like a machine through a huge field of debris, cutting down trees and picking up debris. Piles of rubble and concrete slabs were all that remained of a few homes.

Jeremy Brown, the youth minister for Hartsville Pike Church of Christ, said nearly 40 volunteers were working around the four or five leveled homes that afternoon. He added that it doesn't matter if the homeowners were church members or not, they'll help anyone who asks. "We'll do this as long as it's needed," said Brown. "We just want to help them as much as we can."

Brown was glad to have so many members of the church's youth group helping out. School was canceled for that day, so many of the youth were there alongside of Brown, picking up debris or moving tree limbs. He said it was important for them to help with the response. "When I was growing up, I was taught that others come first, so I want to teach these kids that too. We want to be an example to others."

The youth ranged from junior high age to high school. Near one home, 12-year-old Caleb Bullock and 13-year-old Rachel Pursley were working with adults to move a damaged fence. Bullock said helping out was just the right thing to do. "I like helping people. Plus, if this happened to me, I'd want people to help me out," he said.

Pursley nodded. "It feels good to help out, we were lucky our houses weren't hit."

Many of the day's volunteers were from the Gallatin School District. Mark Wilson, an English teacher and football coach from the high school, was also moving the damaged fence. He was happy to see so many of his school's athletes out that day as well, including much of the football team. "This is a hodge-podge of teachers and and athletes out here donating their time," said Wilson, who is also a member of Hartsville Pike Church of Christ. "There are a lot of people here donating their time. Most are from Gallatin, but there are others from elsewhere. It's humbling to have people donate their time to help."

Wilson added that the volunteers were a positive note in such a rough time. "It's disheartening to see the loss out here, but on the other hand, it's good to see such good spirits and hearts among the volunteers."


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