Forty-six homes are completely destroyed. Two hundred ninety-one more are damaged. A community is shaken but determined to press on.
In the Paradise Acres subdivision of Onalaska, yellow shirts dot the landscape, offering help, hope and healing. The neighborhood was hit by an EF-3 tornado with winds as high as 140 miles-per-hour on April 22. Two TBM chainsaw teams cut up fallen trees and dragged them to the edge of the street, helping residents clear fallen trees and debris from their homes.
TBM chainsaw teams consist of volunteers who remove fallen trees and debris from houses and property near houses for free after storms. In the last 12 months alone, they have cleared limbs from hundreds of properties after tornados and windstorms.
In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, volunteers are social distancing protocol. Every volunteer has his or her temperature taken daily and wear a mask.
Residents are shell-shocked less than 24 hours later. Pain reveals itself in tears, exhaustion and blank stares of disbelief. Their reaction is understandable, said TBM Associate Director of Disaster Relief David Wells. Some of them haven’t stopped working since the storm moved on. Their world was turned upside down – sometimes literally – in a matter of minutes.
“The tornado just wiped stuff out,” he said. “It’s devastating. Who is prepared for all the trees in your yard to suddenly be on top of your home?”
But with each cut and tree removed for free by the volunteers, homeowners begin to see a path forward. In an already tight economy, they don’t have to worry about the expense of hiring someone to remove limbs from their property. As weight is removed from their homes, some of the stress is removed from their lives.
Wells met a single woman who was struggling to figure out what to do with her tree-covered home. She had gotten four estimates to do the work. She could not afford any of them. Wells told her TBM would do it for free, and she broke down in tears.
At other homes, volunteers visited with residents who were searching for answers and meaning to their lives after the disaster. TBM volunteers shared about God’s love for all people, encouraged people to follow Him and prayed with them.
Already, Wells has seen the resilience that makes up the foundation of Onalaska. Neighbors are working together. Homeowners are working alongside TBM volunteers. Together, the community travels the long road of recovery.
“It’s a small town,” Wells said. “They’re resilient. They’re helping each other. They’re going at it hard. We praise the Lord for that.”
TBM can respond so quickly to disasters because of prayer and financial support from people like you. All donations designated for disaster relief support TBM Disaster Relief efforts. To give online, visit tbmtx.org/donate.