Tornado Cleanup in Rainsville, AL

Some of the trees that we spent the day cutting up & moving.

This past Saturday we had the privilege of traveling to Rainsville, AL to work with others from our church doing cleanup from the devastating April tornadoes. The rest of the group went down Thursday night to be able to work all day Friday & Saturday. As we didn’t have another day off of work that we could take right now, we were glad to at least be able to help on Saturday.

Rainsville is a small town of 5,000. It’s in the northeast corner of Alabama. We heard varying stories, but they either had an F4 or F5 tornado cut a 30+ mile path through the area. It killed 35 people and injured hundreds. In the aftermath, this area of the state has felt largely overlooked. They just haven’t gotten the attention & help that the larger cities have had.

We ended up at Gary’s house for the day. His house was untouched, but he had a lot of downed trees & debris on his property. A tree had also fallen on his RV. But he is the first to tell you how lucky he was. He lost 9 friends.

This is the side of Gary's property, where we were working all day. You can see the damaged RV and bent/downed trees.

When the storms approached, he was outside. He said there was no warning – just talk of approaching strong thunderstorms. When it blew up on his property, he didn’t have time to do anything else but to grab hold of his shed door. Apparently he hung on with both hands as the tornado blew over the side of his property. Apparently afterwards, he (or “they”, not sure which) had to remove a 2 inch piece of glass from his chest. He said they are still getting little pieces of glass out from around his eye.

Gary is a first responder/EMT/rescue diver. We learned that he has spent the last 3 months helping everyone else. It was only a few days ago that he had gotten a small chance to start on is own property. Even Friday night he was out diving to help retrieve cars from a nearby body of water. He only got 1 hour of sleep that night.

I think we all felt so glad to be able to help someone who has spent all of this time helping everyone else in his community. It really was a privilege.

A mangled swingset thrown onto his property. I don't think it was his, but never got a chance to ask.

So we spent the day clearing debris. Everything from small branches to huge trees. These trees that were four & five feet across had been completely toppled by the tornado. We had 3 chainsaws going at a time. I heard that on at least one of them that we went through 3 blades in a matter of hours. That’s how much wood was being cut & moved. By the end, with no more blades, we had run out of things we could do. We had 5 huge stacks of wood/branches, probably 10′-12′ high each. It’s amazing what 25 people working together can accomplish in a short period of time.

Here are 3 of our 5 large debris piles. These are at least 10' tall.

While we weren’t able to get away for a week-long mission trip this year, we were very glad for at least this small chance to help.