Celebrating God’s Work Through Our Volunteers in Tennessee

May 12, 2020 • United States

Samaritan’s Purse nears completion on our Chattanooga deployment, one of nine tornado responses so far this year and the fourth in the Volunteer State.

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About the time the tornado warning sounded on her phone, Mallary Netterville heard the trees snapping in her yard. The only other warning would be the flickering lights.

Billy Graham Rapid Response Team chaplains meet with homeowners and neighbors Mallary Netterville, right, and Jenny Spicer.

Billy Graham Rapid Response Team chaplains meet with homeowners and neighbors Mallary Netterville, right, and Jenny Spicer.

“The lights flickered. Then they flickered again. Then the power went out,” Mallary said. “Then it hit.”

Part of a tree punched a hole in the roof over their kitchen. And by the time she and her husband woke the kids and rushed them to the master bathroom—the only room without windows—the tornado was gone.

The twister had torn a path of more than 10 miles from Chattanooga westward toward their Ooltewah, Tennessee, home, pouncing on them after ripping up hundreds of other homes in Hamilton County.

“We read and tried to go back to bed,” said the Nettervilles’ 12-year-old son Joseph. He said they read some chapters from Percy Jackson—a novel series whose namesake can conjure storms. “But I couldn’t go back to sleep for a while.”

Blue tarps mark damaged homes across Hamilton County, Tennessee, where an EF-3 tornado ripped through late Easter Sunday.

Blue tarps mark damaged homes across Hamilton County, Tennessee, where an EF-3 tornado ripped through late Easter Sunday.

When it was light again, so many trees crisscrossed their yard that they couldn’t even see the neighbor’s house only a few feet away.

The EF-3 tornado had destroyed more than 340 homes in Hamilton County, killing at least three people, including a 4-year-old boy as he slept.

In total, more than 30 people across the Southeast were killed by twisters on Easter Sunday and Monday as storms raced through the region. It’s estimated that 138 tornadoes touched down across 10 states in two days.

In response, Samaritan’s Purse deployed disaster relief units and staff to four locations: in Tennessee, in Louisiana, in Mississippi, and in South Carolina.

Hard at Work Again in the Volunteer State

For nearly a month Samaritan’s Purse has been working in the Chattanooga area cutting trees from homes and property, cleaning debris from yards, and, in some cases, performing mud out work after damaged houses were pelted with heavy rainfall.

Volunteers helped clean up trees at the Netterville home where an EF-3 tornado toppled pines and hardwoods.

Volunteers helped clean up trees at the Netterville home where an EF-3 tornado toppled pines and hardwoods.

In just a matter of days, volunteers had cleared the Netterville property of the large pines and hardwoods that had, for the most part, landed in the yard. That’s what the family had been praying for as they huddled in their house.

“There was one spot where the trees were 20 feet tall,” said Jenny Spicer, the Netterville’s neighbor whose home is only a few feet away. “God separated them into a ‘V’ around our houses. They landed perfectly between our homes.”

Even in the midst of the global COVID-19 crisis, there’s been no shortage of volunteers willing to work hard in Jesus’ Name, even while complying with local and federal safety guidelines—wearing masks and social distancing.

“I want to do as much as I can,” said Chattanooga resident Deanna Mears who was helping at the Netterville home carrying cut up logs to the street. “I was going to take a week off of work for a mission trip but with COVID our trip got canceled. So, it’s been awesome to be able to help in our community.”

Samaritan's Purse President Franklin Graham visited with volunteers at our work sites in Chattanooga.

Samaritan’s Purse President Franklin Graham visited with volunteers at our work sites in Chattanooga.

Recently, Samaritan’s Purse President Franklin Graham visited the area and was encouraged by the work of so many local volunteers assisting in an area where it “looks like a bomb went off. It’s a mess here. But Samaritan’s Purse has an army of volunteers working in these communities.”

For the second time this year, our army of volunteers included Tennessee First Lady Maria Lee. Mrs. Lee visited the home of Evelyn Leamon and her son Junior after the Chattanooga EF-3 toppled three large hardwood trees onto their mobile home. They miraculously survived, crouched in a small space between the stove and dishwasher.

Mrs. Lee said the devastation in Chattanooga and in other areas of Tennessee this year has been sobering for her beloved state. Earlier in 2020, we responded in three locations in the central part of the state after a series of devastating tornadoes.

Tennessee First Lady Maria Lee meets with homeowner Evelyn Leamon.

Tennessee First Lady Maria Lee meets with homeowner Evelyn Leamon.

“After seeing the damage in Cookeville, Mt. Juliet, and Nashville, this is equally as devastating,” Mrs. Lee said. “It kind of hits you in the face and wakes you up to reality.”

At the conclusion of our work at the Leamons’ home, volunteers formed a large circle around Evelyn and Junior to pray for the mother and son. Mrs. Lee had the honor of presenting a Billy Graham Study Bible to the pair. Evelyn had tear-filled eyes as she responded.

“It’s so wonderful to hear y’all pray. I haven’t been to church in a long time,” she said. “You are a blessing. I had nobody to help me. I thank God for you being here, and I’ll praise the Lord every day.”

More than 750 volunteers completed work on more than 260 homes during our response in Chattanooga, Tennessee, which ended up on May 12. We praise God that 16 individuals prayed to receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior during our response.

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U.S. Disaster Relief Samaritan's Purse mobilizes and equips thousands of volunteers to provide emergency aid to U.S. victims of wildfires, floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, and other natural disasters. In the aftermath of major storms, we often stay behind to rebuild houses for people with nowhere else to turn for help.

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