By Connie Davis Bushey
News Editor, Baptist and Reflector
SWEETWATER — As Kenny Witt, Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief volunteer of Madisonville, drove down a rural road near Sweetwater by homes and property, he saw more trees damaged by the tornado and storms which struck Monroe County July 14. He stopped at a house which had downed trees but didn’t find anyone home. Witt went further down the road to the next house and found the owner of the previous house was there staying with her mother-in-law because she was expecting a baby soon.
The lady quickly accepted the help Witt offered, signing the required forms.
The next day Lou Mulsand of Knoxville and a team of DR volunteers from Sevier Heights Baptist Church, Knoxville, arrived at the lady’s house. Mulsand and Tom Freels of Sevier Heights went to introduce themselves and learned more of her story.
She was scheduled to have a baby the next day but couldn’t ride in her car to the hospital because a tree — “a four footer,” according to Mulsand, — blocked the driveway.
Freels told Mulsand and Witt that they had to get that driveway opened up that day so she could get to the hospital tomorrow.
A team of about eight volunteers did just that, the men reported.
The volunteers working two days later learned that the lady had delivered a son and both were well.
“The timing just worked out perfectly on that,” said Witt.
Mulsand noted, “It’s not a coincidence that we go to certain homes.”
About 26 Baptist DR workers have served beginning July 16 in the Sweetwater and Tellico Plains area where they found and completed about 50 jobs. The work is still continuing.
The storm did damage in an area about 20 miles long, stretching from the west side of Tellico Plains to the east side of Sweetwater.
Mulsand, director of disaster relief for Knox County Baptist Association, whose crews worked in the area seven days as of Aug. 5 and planned to return with a team on Aug. 8, said they also saw a man rededicate his life to Christ and a lot of older ladies helped. Many of the ladies would say upon meeting the DR workers that God had answered their prayers, he added.
Witt said besides helping the expectant lady another incident stood out to him. He was visiting with a homeowner they were helping. The man looked at all the damage on his property and said, “Kenny, you think you’ve seen the power of God when you look at all of this, but you really see the power of God when you see neighbors helping neighbors.”
Finally, Witt said they helped a family whose home was basically destroyed by trees falling on it so they had moved in with their son. In the area three or four homes were destroyed by the storm. The DR workers removed a tree to allow them to access items from their house.
Two groups of DR volunteers stayed and worked for five days — from Woodland Baptist Church, Brownsville, and Holston Baptist Association, based in Johnson City. They were housed by Fairview Baptist Church, Sweetwater. Tony Rutherford, director of missions, Sweetwater Baptist Association, helped make these arrangements as well as delivering lunch and water provided by the association and individuals to volunteers.
DR workers also served from Sweetwater Association; Hamilton County Baptist Association, based in Chattanooga; Knox County Association; and Nolachucky Baptist Association, based in Morristown.
Mulsand said he was amazed at the work ethic of the volunteers who worked all day, only stopping to move to another job, and despite heat and humidity that “was just brutal.”
God also provided people who were very skilled on the equipment, said Mulsand. For instance, Arlin Phillips of First Baptist Church, Tellico Plains, was very good because he was in the logging business nearly all of his life.
No federal government aid is available to residents because the tornado was not ruled to be bad enough, reported Rutherford.
All of the damage on private property is up to the homeowners to repair and the work is very expensive, said Rutherford.
“We’re just really grateful and our community is just really grateful for all the work that has been done. The people here needed help,” he stated.