As I scanned through various news channels and the Weather channel all weekend, one couldn’t help but see all of the pieces of footage from that fateful day, August 29th, when winds and rain ripped through the Gulf Coast leaving behind mass destruction that claimed the lives of 1800 people.
I had just started at The Salvation Army as the Director of Volunteer Services when this storm made landfall and had zero experience in how to handle a disaster let alone manage volunteer teams to assist. I remember we all gathered in our conference room, our Area Commander at the time Major Ronnie Raymer at the helm and he quickly went over the details of the storm. He went on to explain that many folks evacuated and were being diverted to various cities across the US, one of the stops was Nashville. Major explained that many would be here on our doorstep seeking supplies, a place to sleep or gas cards to enable them to head back home for those who didn’t ride a bus here.
My phone immediately rung off the hook with people from all over Tennessee wanted to head down to the Gulf Coast with our disaster team. I jotted down everyone’s information advising that we could only send so many people every two weeks, but would keep them on the list. Soon enough our lobby was brimming over with folks who narrowly escaped the clutches of the storm. Everyone had disorietnted looks as they sat with their children, quietly whispering that everything’s going to be ok. All of the staff gathered and we quickly put a schedule together with everyone working in shifts to interview each family and assess what the needs were. We kept this kind of schedule from early in the morning to the evening and on Saturday and Sunday as well. We worked with the clients out of our dining room and library, setting up a small store of donated items from companies all over Nashville including Dollar General Corporation who provided us with a truck load of health and beauty products, towels and socks. Several volunteers came out and put together kits for all of the families who came through which generally amounted to 100 a day.
For weeks, we all interviewed and met so many people who left their homes with nothing but the clothes on their back. I had little girls who were so excited to get a brand new outfit to change into and pretty pink bows to put in their hair. Story after story was told as each one of us worked our shifts completing the necessary paperwork and assisting with what we could. One story that stuck out was a gentleman whose real name was Precious. He explained that as the storm was nearing he ran as quick as he could to the nursing home where his wife was a resident so she wouldn’t be alone. It appeared when he got there that everyone had gone, but his sweet wife was still there refusing to leave without her soulmate. He said that as the waters began to rise he would carry her up to higher elevations within the building until they finally reached the attic. There they sat in each other’s arms until he heard the Coast Guard shout through the vent if anyone was in there. They were rescued and he said they were flown by helicopter to Nashville where his wife was taken to a very nice nursing home outside of the city. He said that, “he was never more happy to see the rolling hills of Tennessee than he was that day.” Precious shared how grateful he was to have been rescued.
Thank you to all of the agencies who banded together to help our fellow neighbors, to all of the corporations and companies who donated the needed items or money to meet the need and to the countless numbers of volunteers who gave of their precious time. Because of you, The Salvation Army was able to come to the aide of thousands not only along the Gulf Coast, but also here in Nashville, TN. And even though the” Winds Have Died Down” there is still a wave of help that continues to flow!