The end of April 2011 brought devastating storms to the United States. The time period between April 25th through the 28th was the largest tornado outbreak ever recorded. The National Weather Service confirmed 358 tornadoes ranging from Texas to New York, Canada, and affected 21 states. Of those confirmed, 4 ranked an EF5. Sadly, 346 people lost their lives during this time period.
April 27th is considered one of the most deadliest days since the Tri-State outbreak in 1925. Although the storm affected many states severely, Ringgold was very close to home for me.
Ringgold, GA and the surrounding area was hit by an EF4 tornado late in the evening on April 27th. Winds were estimated at 175-190 miles an hour. The path of the tornado was 1/3 to 1/2 mile wide, and traveled about 52 miles. In Catoosa county, GA almost 100 homes were damaged or completely destroyed. Along Cherokee Valley Road, I saw first hand some of the homes that were destroyed. There was literally nothing left of some of the homes except the concrete foundations or slabs. It looked as if the homes exploded and disintegrated. The local high school and middle school was damaged, along with McDonald's, Taco Bell, a hotel, gas stations, and several other buildings. Many people in the area were able to catch the storm on film, and there are various you tube videos of the storm.
The storm then crossed into Apison across the Tennessee line and destroyed more homes and buildings. Eight people lost their lives in Apison, and another 5 in Cleveland. All together in this area 20 people died, ranging in age from 16 to 86.
The city of Ringgold literally had to shut down the roads for several days, allowing only workers and homeowners to go in and out of the town. Identification was required to enter the city as search and rescue workers attempted to account for everyone and others worked on clearing debris. I had the opportunity to volunteer along with my husband. It was the most horrific scene I have ever personally witnessed. It looked like a war zone, as some residents were numbly picking up pieces of what were left of their belongings. The sound of chain saws filled the air from all directions, as people worked to remove trees off of roads, homes, and businesses. Everyone was shocked, as we normally don't see weather of this nature in north Georgia. Signs of missing pets or loved ones were placed around town. And as always, disaster opens the door for greedy business. There were numerous reports of people coming in charging families outrageous prices to remove fallen trees or tarp roofs, when there were several workers who were volunteering and doing it for free.
A year has now passed since the deadly storms. Some home owners chose to rebuild. Others left the area, leaving behind vacant lots. Unfortunately many of the homes in town were older homes and were not covered by an insurance policy. Most of the businesses also rebuilt, but a few did not come back. Driving through Ringgold today would appear that most of the area is back in order. But even a year later, driving down Cherokee Valley road is very reminding of that terrible day. You can still see the wide path of the tornado where it crossed over the hills and twisted and tore the trees. The path almost resembles an area that has been burned, with little greenery or trees left. It is scary, yet amazing the power of these storms, and definitely a day that most won't forget.