Thursday, May 19, 2011

Heartbreak in Ringgold

On Sunday, when we were driving up to Chattanooga for the Day Out with Thomas event, we passed Ringold, GA on the interstate. Something we have done hundred of times when visiting family in Tennessee and Alabama. We used to go shopping in Ringgold when we lived in Chattanooga at the Ingles because it was cheaper and gas was always cheaper just over the Georgia line. Since we have live in Atlanta, we normally stop at the same exit every time we make that trip to get gas and stretch out before finishing the drive. Same exit, same gas station, same McDonalds to grab a drink. It is almost a tradition.

On April 27th, 2011, Ringold, GA was struck by an EF4 tornado with 175MPH winds. The tornado left a 13 mile long path of destruction, destroying most everything in its path. 

When we passed the first exit for Ringgold, going North on I-75. I mentioned to my mom that it didn't look too bad. Then we passed the second exit and we both gasped and teared up. The gas station, usually clearly visible from the interstate, was gone. GONE. There was debris all over the interstate, the damage we saw just from the interstate was heartbreaking. I wondered what had become of the rest of the town if that one station had been leveled like that.

We went on about our trip, going to Bea's restaurant in Hixon, TN and then having a grand time at the Thomas event. When we all piled back in the van and headed back to our neck of the woods, I looked down at my gas gauge and my stomach twisted. Not because we didn't have enough gas to get home, but because the image of our gas station strewn across the interstate in pieces the size of a toaster flashed in my mind.

When we hit the Georgia line on our way back, the boys were both asleep in the back seat so I decided to pull off the interstate to get a better look. What greeted us was grim and heartbreaking. The McDonalds that the boys had played in so many times was an empty shell. The stores and hotels that I had pictures of engraved into mind from my childhood and years of "passing through" are obliterated. The small town I knew well was gone and left in its place was a shell scattered with remains.

(These are the pictures I took on our way through Ringgold, GA. © RMM 2011)

There were seven fatalities in Ringold that night. Catoosa County Manager Mike Helton reported that parts of signs from Ringgold have been found in Knoxville, TN (106 miles away) and a Ringgold resident’s swimming medals and yearbook material were found in Madisonville, TN (74 miles away).

They had no warning and it was over in 20 seconds. Seconds. The storm wasn't supposed to hit them. A late, upward shift spared the town I live in but it destroyed one that I cared for. Its heartbreaking to think about all of those people. Displaced. Homeless. By something that was completely beyond their control. The first hand accounts are even more heartbreaking.

You may not have heard much about Ringgold in the after math of the storms. Its a small town that most people have never heard of. Especially not people outside of the area. The population was only 2,422 at the 2000 census. You may have heard that in 2002, a sudden heavy fog played havoc with morning traffic and contributed to one of the worst traffic pileups in Gerogia's history (125 vehicles crashed on Interstate 75 South and 4 people died) but did you know the name of the town?

Thing is, these people need help. In a big way. They need your support, they need your prayers, they need your love. They may not be as big as some of the other cities affected but they were hit hard. If you can, help out. There are so many ways to help them rebuild. I intend on gathering some things to take up to one of the drop off points one day early next week. If anyone has anything they want to send in the way of letters, cards or items, email me at Amy (at) rendermemama (dot) com and we can work out how to get them there. If you can't do anything physically, please just keep them in your thoughts and prayers. They are going to need it for a bit...


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