The American Red Cross prevents and alleviates human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilizing the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors.
Robert W. Wallace/American Red Cross
Kelso, Tennessee, April 30, 2014. “I was the flying debris,” said Larry George of Kelso, Tennessee, when describing his ordeal in surviving the recent tornado that did severe damage to his rural home.
It was raining hard when George heard the tornado warning on the radio and realized that he needed to be in his neighbor’s storm shelter. In his car, he was just heading down the quarter-mile, dirt driveway from this home to the main road when the wind picked up the car and smashed it into a clump of nearby trees. “There was no sound, it just hit me,” recalled George.
With the car now mangled, George found himself on his hands and knees, bear- hugging a tree trunk as other trees fell all around him. “In my mind, I still hear those trees popping,” he shared. Thinking he was a goner and hoping that someone would eventually be able to find his body, George held on until the storm passed.
Afterwards, George managed to make it back to his damaged home. He had cuts and scrapes all over and what he thinks are cracked or broken ribs. “Don’t squeeze to tight,” he said as Red Cross volunteers Beth Toll and Jan Freeman gave him hugs. Shortly after the ordeal, he came down with a bad case of poison ivy, and he now remembers a big patch of the ivy growing right where he and his car were tossed by the storm.
Without transportation and trapped in his damaged and isolated rural home, George waited for help to arrive. He used the door that had been ripped from his garage as a huge canvas on which he painted the desperate words “Send Help.” “Helicopters kept flying overhead, but no one came. Red Cross workers were the first ones to come to check on me,” said George. Now he is expecting his daughter to arrive soon to help out, and on this day there was a steady flow of people coming in and out to check on him.
As we were leaving George introduced us to Buddy, his faithful dog. Buddy rode out the storm in a nearby shed that, though intact, now has a tree lying across its roof. “He was really scared when I found him after the storm,” George recalls.
Buddy seems to be a local favorite: “The ladies down at the general store always make him a sandwich when we go in. “Of course I get bologna, but Buddy always gets ham,” said George with a chuckle as he looked fondly at his four-legged companion and fellow tornado survivor.