SALEM, Ohio — Three weeks ago, Allan Morrow didn’t know Lucille Watson or Mark Beeler or anyone else in Hartsville, Tenn.
But he did know there were farmers there — people just like him — who’d seen their homes and farms devastated by February tornadoes.
And he knew he had two hands that could help them get their lives back in order.
Morrow, a grain farmer in Miami County, Ohio, returned March 14 from a week-long mission trip to help those Tennessee farmers rebuild.
He joined other farmers from Illinois and Missouri to form one of the first groups sent in to help with the cleanup by the Fellowship of Christian Farmers International.
Morrow, who said he hadn’t seen any tornado damage with his own eyes in more than 40 years, was touched when he saw conditions on farms in Lafayette and Hartsville, Tenn.
Super-cell thunderstorms moving across Arkansas, Tennessee and Kentucky the evening of Feb. 5 spawned numerous tornadoes and killed 33 people in Tennessee, according to the state’s department of health.
“This tornado just cut a path across the country, 20-some miles long. If you got a direct hit, it pretty much destroyed everything,” Morrow said.
Morrow said he saw shredded trees and debris scattered everywhere.
“Some of the people we worked with, their neighbors had been killed in the storm. It hit them pretty hard,” he said.
Mark Beeler, who lives in Hartsville and was a local coordinator for the volunteers, dispatched Morrow and the group of 10 volunteers to clean up three north-central Tennessee farms.
“There was a lot of agricultural-related damage. There was trees down, fences down, a lot of buildings destroyed,” Beeler said.
The helpers pulled flatbed wagons across hilly fields, picking up lumber, shingles, vinyl siding. They stumbled upon a quilt, a woman’s shoe, someone’s checkbook, a credit card, a clothes dryer.
And they gathered it all up, knowing this time of year brings new growth to grasses and hay fields and the itch to get crops planted.
Each little piece had to be picked up before the grass hid it from sight, posing risks to livestock that might eat it, and to protect planter tires and tillage tools from tangling in the debris.
On the Ira and Carlos Watson farm in Hartsville, Morrow and his new friends also picked up tree branches and repaired fences so the farmers would have paddocks for their cattle to graze.
“We got trees everywhere, on the fence. Tore the fence up everywhere,” said Ira Watson’s 83-year-old wife, Lucille.
“They was just nice people, wanting to help people. That’s all I can say,” Watson said. “They were good hands.”
Fourth time. Morrow, who also volunteered time to help with hurricane cleanup in Louisiana a few years ago, said all the families he’s helped were appreciative.
“They can’t believe why would you drive this far to come down” to help strangers, he said.
“Being a Christian, I’m not one to stand up in a pulpit and talk. Going down there and doing the work is something I can do.
“You just want to be there to help, to do what you can.”
(Reporter Andrea Zippay welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.)