It’s been six weeks since the “Easter tornadoes” hit our area. Many of us have moved on and almost forgotten about them in the face of other challenges, including COVID-19.

But those who were hit by the tornadoes continue to recover — emotionally and physically — and also have COVID-19 issues to deal with.

One woman’s story

On the evening of April 12, Debbie Price of Ooltewah, Tenn., called her parents to warn them that bad weather was on the way. Then she went to bed and fell asleep.

At 11:43 PM, Price was jolted awake by a huge crash. A giant, 200-year-old oak tree hung four feet from her head. Within minutes, rain started pouring through the hole in her roof. Another tree pierced a bathroom wall, ripping apart plumbing and sending water spewing everywhere.

The tornado rammed a 60-foot pine tree 30 feet through a wall and up through the ceiling. “I was in shock, running around in the house,” says Price. “It felt like a vacuum. I finally made it outside. People were screaming. I helped other people as best I could.”

Of the 13 trees the tornado took out on Price’s property, eight of them fell on or punctured her home. The storm also destroyed her deck and the fence around her yard.

“One of my neighbors saw the tornado hit my place,” says Price. “They said it was sucking up trees with a vengeance and spitting them back out with a greater vengeance.”

Price says she felt numb and overwhelmed, but a new feeling overcame her the day after. “I felt like I’d been washed clean, like I’d been baptized again. I survived — unhurt — and I shouldn’t have. People just down the street from me were killed. My dogs and cats survived. Incredibly, my truck didn’t have a scratch on it.”

Trees had pierced or fallen on almost every room in Price’s house.

This was not the first time in 2020 that Price experienced the feeling of a mixed blessing. When COVID-19 hit, she dutifully closed her Ringgold dog grooming business, K-9 Tub Time.

That meant leaving employees without work and cancelling client appointments in addition to personal loss of income.

The upside was the loyalty and understanding of her clients. “I learned I am blessed with the best clients in the world,” says Price. “I didn’t realize clients could be so awesome.”

Clients were not only patient and willing to postpone appointments because of COVID-19, but when the tornado hit, they were there for Price. “My clients reached out to me, offered me help and places to stay. They sent me pictures of their dogs waving and saying sorry and sending their love.”

Price is currently sleeping on an air mattress in her parents’ basement. Not wanting to avail herself of the tremendous amount of free help being offered when others might need it more, she used insurance money to hire a tree service company to remove the trees that had been torn from the ground. She was left with a half-done job.

“On the good side,” says Price, “it was amazing to see the first responders in my area — the neighbors and churches out there with meals, clothes, helping to clean up. It was a beautiful feeling to see God’s people at work in the middle of a disaster. I didn’t want to impose on those people, but the downside was being left with a mess that still needs to be cleaned up before I can work on a new home.”

“This has been a rough year,” says Price. “I broke my ankle in two places in February when my foot slipped off the new sidewalk in front of my store. I’d been warning customers about it since it went in, then I was the one who slipped off. COVID-19 hurt my business. Then the tornado. I feel like I get over one mountain, then there’s another one to climb. But every time there’s a hardship, there are blessings I would have never experienced — good people coming to the rescue, a chance to start over. I feel truly blessed.”

Tamara Wolk is a reporter for The Catoosa County News in Ringgold, Ga., and Walker County Messenger in LaFayette, Ga.

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