Volunteers reach out

Bill Carr spent Thursday morning profusely thanking a few farmers.

BY HEATHER MOYER | DYERSBURG, Tenn. | April 17, 2006

"I got in that tub there to ride out the storm."

—Steve Harness

Bill Carr spent part of his Thursday morning driving around Dyersburg profusely thanking a few farmers.

The farmers each took a day away from their busy lives to donate their time and heavy equipment to tornado recovery in Dyersburg. "God bless you guys," said Carr, stopping his truck next to a bulldozer.

Carr, a disaster relief volunteer with the United Methodist Church's Memphis Annual Conference, has spent most of the last two weeks in the Dyersburg area. He helps organize volunteers and monitor worksites after a powerful tornado tore through the city, ripping up hundreds of homes.

A resident of nearby Paducah, Ken., Carr understands how valuable the farmers' time is. "This is a prime time of year for them, they should be out in their fields planting," he said. "Bless them for doing this; giving us a day is so helpful."

He added that the farmers are also donating their time with their heavy equipment, bringing in backhoes and bulldozers. "These guys save us thousands of dollars. Otherwise we'd have to rent the equipment and pay operators."

The tornado's path of destruction is vast in Dyersburg. Almost every home along one country road is severely damaged or destroyed. Trees are stripped of branches, split in half or knocked completely over.

As Carr drove around the area Thursday, he stopped in to visit several homeowners his volunteers had already helped or were slated to help. Stopping at the remnants of one home on a ridge, he and a farmer spoke with the homeowner.

"I'd like all this pushed back to the edge of my property so we can bury it," said the homeowner, Steve Harness. The three walked the property, pointing out debris and marking gas and water lines.

Harness was in his home when the tornado hit, which may be hard to believe, looking at what's left. "I got in that tub there to ride out the storm," said Harness, pointing to a tub in the center sitting amongst the remains of his home. "If that was a fiberglass tub instead of a cast iron one, I wouldn't have made it."

The tornado pushed Harness' home 50 feet off its foundation, moving it toward the road. The walls were blown out and the roof ripped off. He plans on rebuilding, adding that in the meantime he'll put a mobile home on the property to live in.

For the farmer surveying Harness' property with Carr, helping is the right thing to do. "My preacher called and said people needed help, so I'm here," said the farmer, who declined to give his name. "I rounded up two (bulldozers) and (backhoes) for today."

Carr sees the work the same way and has been a disaster relief volunteer for five years now. "God told me to do this sort of work," said Carr, who works as an emergency medical technician back in his hometown. "We're supposed to help our neighbors. This is what I'm supposed to be doing."

Touring the devastated neighborhoods on Thursday, Carr spoke about how far-reaching a disaster can be. It may not have affected your home directly, he said, but in small towns most everyone knows everyone else - and that means everyone was affected somehow.

"Death is everywhere along here," he said, gesturing toward a cluster of three homes on top of a ridge where the tornado killed several people. Upon reaching a stretch of the road now bordered by dirt lots, he said the devastation was even more shocking.

"The tornado didn't knock anything down along here - it's just gone. It's now out yonder - it's out in the fields now."

Carr also stopped by the Christ United Methodist Church site. The church building was leveled by the tornado. One muddied part of the church's sign now leans against the old signpost as church members and volunteers work out of the grassy area next to the foundation. "Mentally, they're doing very good there," said Carr of the church members.

From the church it was off to another volunteer work site, where two volunteers were busy cutting down tree limbs hanging precariously over a damaged home. Carr joined them and the three men stood under the tree pondering how to get the limbs down safely. Soon after, Carr went to work with a chainsaw while another volunteer operated a tractor.

Watching from a safe spot over in the driveway was the homeowner's son-in-law. When the dangerous tree limbs came thundering down in a clear area next to the house, he laughed and smiled. "Man, that's just where he said he'd have those branches land. I can't praise these guys enough."

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