Sheer pandemonium would be an apt description for many people living across the US Southeast last weekend. Late Easter Sunday night continuing through Monday morning, violent storms raged across the region, stretching from Texas to Virginia—including my Georgia hometown. Over 60 tornadoes were reported, claiming over 30 lives and leaving millions without power. My family and I spent Easter Sunday in a tornado shelter.
Even amidst a global health pandemic, disaster clean-up must begin for these Southerners—face masks in tow. Alongside my family, I donned my own face mask and headed up to Tennessee to lend a helping hand.
Driving in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and navigating a maze of power lines and fallen trees caused by the EF-3 tornado, I arrived at the home of Elizabeth Robinson—a Latter-day Saint who lost her home in the tornado. Where once stood a stately brick home was now a mess of debris, the roof completely blown away and scattered across the backyard.
Sister Robinson shares her Easter Sunday events with me—testifying how she and her family were watched over during the storm. While driving home with her children late Sunday night from a nearby member’s home, Sister Robinson noticed the storm picking up and asked her son to start praying. In the middle of her son’s prayer, trees in front and behind of the truck simultaneously blew over—blocking in the Robinson family.
Stranded and with no help on the way, Sister Robinson felt the impression to abandon the truck and walk home. Trekking through live wires and fallen trees, the Robinsons made it home hours later— only to find their neighborhood in shambles.
When asked why she remains optimistic, Sister Robinson explained, her voice breaking, that her family was protected that night. While they were stranded in the truck, the house caved in on her children’s bedrooms.
“If they had been in bed like they were supposed to be, then they would have been crushed. . . the fact that we were away from home meant that we were saved.” Sister Robinson continued, “My children were saved and that made me feel so blessed.”
Sister Robinson’s eldest son and husband were at home when the tornado hit and, thankfully, were in a safe space at the time.
While maintaining regulations regarding social distancing, an army of Church members with yellow shirts and surgical masks came together as a community once more to begin the clean-up process for the Robinsons and many affected. I asked a volunteer what it meant for them to be able to help their fellow Church member, even during the time of COVID-19.
“It filled up my heart to help them. Although it’s busier than ever, helping someone is always more important than anything else.”
The volunteer’s voice, muffled behind her face mask, continued, “Helping someone get their life back together, especially during isolation, is what Christ would do. Christ would come to work and say, ‘How can I help you?’”
For the first time since the onset of the virus, it felt as if we were united once more as a community.
When I asked Sister Robinson what it meant to her to have all these people serving her family today, she replied over a symphony of chainsaws in the background, a simple, “I feel blessed.”