Earlier this month, a dozen men from Madison and Oglethorpe counties took a caravan of heavy equipment to Kentucky in a humanitarian effort to help people struggling in the wake of tornadoes that blazed a trail of death and destruction in December.
The gritty dozen stayed a week, clearing away downed trees still covering the ground four weeks after the Dec. 10 storms wreaked havoc on the land and splintered the forests.
“There were places where there was nothing left. It looked like a war zone, like where a bomb had gone off. It just cleared the land,” Charlie Snelling recalled about what he observed. “I have a new respect for what a tornado can do.”
The men, traveling in trucks and hauling trailers with two bulldozers, excavators, skid steers and other equipment, left for Lyon County, Ky., on Jan. 9 and stayed until the 14th.
Snelling, retired and now living in Athens and a native of Carlton, where he once served as mayor, recalled that Colbert farmer Dennis Moon wanted to help the folks in Kentucky after seeing a news report that some weren’t getting the aid they needed.
“He said a bunch of us ought to go up there and help these people out,” Snelling said.
That bunch soon included David Whitehead, Larry Johnson, Tony Lastinger, Randy Ray, David Ash, Dennis Moon, Colt Hart, Bruce Moon, Mark Wiskow, Matt Ring, Snelling and a man who wished to remain anonymous.
Moon contacted a farmer he knew in Kentucky, who told him “we have so many people up here that need help. People have lost everything — their homes, their barns, their livestock,” Snelling said.
Moon coordinated with a lawyer, a judge and the sheriff of Lyon County to plan the trip.
The men then hooked their heavy equipment to their trucks for the nine-hour trek.
“The first place we went to was a farm where he needed his fences cleared. Trees were down and his cows were out and he didn’t have the equipment to clear it up,” Snelling said.
This was followed by a trip to what was once a mobile home community. The mobile homes were gone — all scraped and removed — but the carnage of trees remained.
When they arrived, a woman came to the site wanting to know who these strangers were and what they were doing.
“We told her ‘we’re just volunteers from Georgia. We’re here to clean up for you if you want us to — at no charge.’ The lady just started crying,” Snelling said. “We put our equipment on the ground and cleared it all up. When we left, it looked like a site ready for building.”
They then went to the house of a man who couldn’t get to his home because of downed trees in his long driveway.
“There were tears in his eyes when we left,” Snelling said about the man who they learned was a veteran of the U.S. Marines.
“This last farmer we worked with, he was just a good ol’ Kentucky boy with cows and a farm. He said, ‘I had 17 people that I knew who died in this storm. I couldn’t go to the funerals. I can’t handle funerals with 17 people,’” Snelling recalled.
Once, they came upon a Christian cross that was cut into an oak stump by a man using a chainsaw. Surprisingly, the residents told them the man was from the Georgia town of Bowman in Elbert County.
Snelling said was pleased at how well they labored together for a week.
“We were giving each other a hard time, laughing and joking, and we had disagreements, but nobody was disagreeable,” he said.
On early mornings, they’d have breakfast at the Our Daily Bread cafe in Eddyville, then a lunch of burgers at the worksite, followed by evening dinners. Local people treated them with a fish fry one night.
They were provided with cabins at the Buzzard Rock Marina in Eddyville and at another location in Dawson Springs, Ky.
When they were ready for the long haul back to Georgia, they were gifted with cured hams — and not just any hams, but meat cured by a man who won first prize for cured hams at the Kentucky State Fair.
“This is a big deal in Kentucky,” Snelling said about the cured ham competition.
The gritty dozen of Georgians helped many folks who were in need and the gratitude expressed still lingers with Snelling and the others.
“They all said the same thing — you have no idea what this means to us,” the volunteer said.
This article originally appeared on Athens Banner-Herald: Madison, Oglethorpe volunteers help out Kentucky tornado victims