'Sadness, broken hearts, and funerals'; Lynchburg disaster assessor says TN damage is some of the worst he's ever seen

Published: Mar. 9, 2020 at 7:50 PM EDT
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In Cookeville Tennessee, it's quiet now; the wind is only a gentle breeze.

But less than a week ago, it was blowing up to 200 miles an hour down now-empty streets, an EF 4 tornado taking one suburban neighborhood after another - cars, houses, children's toys - and putting them in a blender.

Into this quiet steps Roy St. John. St. John is the Disaster Coordinator for the Lynchburg-based charity, Gleaning for the World. It's his job to travel the country, from one tragedy-stricken area to another.

"I come down and ask what do you need," he said.

St. John has been on the job for nine years now, and says the Tennessee tornadoes are some of the worst he's ever seen.

"A bombing run by B-29 bombers wouldn't do any worse than this," he said.

The disaster coordinator arrived Friday. Since then, he's gone from one neighborhood wiped clean, to the next, touring as much of the 50-mile swathe of damage as he can.

"Coming to an area like this, you get a feeling, after you've done it for awhile, what the survivors are going to need," he said.

Right now, that means things like blankets, water and hand sanitizer.

Already there's a tractor-trailer full being loaded in Lynchburg that St. John says will arrive in the hardest-hit areas Tuesday morning.

"A lot of them will go to people who lost everything and that's one less thing they have to buy, he said.

But, the veteran disaster coordinator concedes, some things can't be replaced.

"This used to be a really nice house," said St. John, standing on a concrete slab, all that remains of a single family home. "You see among your feet here children's toys, children's books. And my thought is, did the child make it? Did the parents make it? And I don't know, and I'll never know."

St. John is just the first wave of support here in middle Tennessee. It's an operation that he says will take months. But it's one that he, and others like him are committed to, for however long it takes.

"We're going to do the best we can to help people as much as possible," he said.

Copyright 2020 WDBJ7. All rights reserved.

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