In March, the city of Chattanooga, Tenn., decided to send a public works crew to assist Mt. Juliet with cleanup efforts after it experienced a tornado. But, representatives of Chattanooga had no idea that a little over a month later, they would receive similar help from a neighboring town after experiencing their own natural disaster.
On March 2, a tornado entered the Mt. Juliet area, producing EF-3 damage in a 6-mile radius, according to the National Weather Service.
As soon as representatives of Chattanooga heard about the damage, they volunteered to send a crew to help clean up the destruction. Ricky Colston, director of citywide services in Chattanooga, explained that the city sent five knuckle booms and multiple chainsaw crews to help clean up debris over a two-week time span.
“This is the first time that we’ve actually went and assisted in a way like this during a disaster,” said Colston.
Ed Hagerty, mayor of Mt. Juliet, described the help from Chattanooga as amazing.
“The morning after the tornado, I got an email from the city of Chattanooga. The only notation on it was the subject line, which said, ‘heading your way.’ I was curious. I opened the email. No message inside, only a picture of a very large truck … I nearly broke down and cried. A day or two later, I saw that truck in a neighborhood where I was helping citizens with the recovery of their belongings.”
Joseph Wormsley, manager of water quality, was one of the city employees who traveled from Chattanooga to Mt. Juliet
“It reminded me of 2011 of what we had when it hit here. It was a lot of people just in shock, I guess you could say,” said Wormsley. “(The Chattanooga employees) were happy to be able to help someone.”
Unfortunately, Chattanooga later experienced its devastating tornado April 12. The EF-3 Easter Sunday tornado was one of at least 105 tornados to touch down across the United States that day, according to the National Weather Service.
After the tornado struck, the city of Knoxville quickly returned Chattanooga’s good deed and volunteered its help.
“It’s a little ironic because Chattanooga actually went out and helped (Mt. Juliet) for their tornado, and then we had to turn around and go help Chattanooga for theirs,” said Chad Weth, public service director of Knoxville. “It was great to be able to help. They would hopefully do the same things for us.”
The city of Knoxville sent a seven-man crew, including knuckle boom operators, chainsaw operators and a supervisor. One crew was sent to help during the first week after the tornado and another crew was sent to help again the following week.
“Once we got down there and saw the magnitude of their needs, I think it was pretty clear that we were able to help,” said Weth. “Our guys picked up over 1.8 million pounds of brush and didn’t even leave the neighborhood. It was quite a devastating tornado for that neighborhood that they were working. That’s a lot of brush in nine days, and then to think about that being within a few square miles — it’s pretty amazing to think about.”
Colston and the rest of Chattanooga were extremely grateful for all the help from Knoxville.
“They just helped us out tremendously,” said Colston. “We just can’t say enough about what they did for us. Not only did they come to help, but they didn’t stop helping until we stopped. They worked with us the entire time, and they were just great to work with.”
Not only did Chattanooga receive help from Knoxville, but the Tennessee Department of Transportation also helped assist with cleanup efforts. TDOT provided dump trucks, which allowed for debris to be cleaned up and moved quickly. After two weeks of initial cleanup, Chattanooga was able to enlist the help of a private contractor to take over the job.
“A lot of our roads were just impassable. There was just no way to even get through,” explained Colston. “By them being here, it helped us to get our roads open a whole lot sooner so that our power companies, our phone companies, our gas companies could actually get to the places that they needed to get to, to get service back to these people.”
When it comes to organizing a crew quickly to respond to a natural disaster like this one, Weth said it all starts with being a good neighbor.
“The first thing I would say is just be a good neighbor and reach out and offer to help,” said Weth. “When I mentioned it to my administration, they were very supportive, in hopes that if it happens here, Chattanooga would do the same thing for us.”
Not only did the Knoxville crew get to help out Chattanooga in its time of need, but it also gave the employees a firsthand look at tornado cleanup efforts. The hope is that if Knoxville encounters a tornado in the future, its department would be better able to handle the cleanup process.
“It was a good experience for our guys to see, you know … it helps you be thankful for what you have, because those people that they were helping had lost everything,” continued Weth. “I would help out anytime a neighboring city or county needed assistance.”
In the end, the neighborly assistance Tennessee experienced this year was all about being prepared to help others who are in need.
“This really shows why we are called the Volunteer State,” concluded Colston.