The news cameras have packed up. People have shifted their focus to the next tragedy. But those affected by last week's flooding in and around Marion County, Tenn., and Jackson County, Ala., face the daunting task of cleaning up and restoring their homes, businesses and lives.
The destruction was staggering, especially in South Pittsburg where nearly every business on the town's main drag suffered damage.
The flash flooding, caused when at least 3.5 inches of rain fell over the course of about two hours late last Wednesday night, destroyed three bridges and inundated the South Pittsburg City Hall and fire department with water.
South Pittsburg High School was damaged, and South Pittsburgh Elementary School's brand-new gym floor was destroyed. The repair bill for the two schools is expected to top $1 million, according to South Pittsburg Mayor Jane Dawkins.
St. Luke Clinic, which provides medical care to Marion County residents without health insurance, filled with water and mud. Stevarino's Italian restaurant sustained an estimated $50,000 in damage. Water reached as high as 6 inches in Hammers Department Store. When the rain finally subsided, the cars that made up Moss Motor Co.'s inventory sat submerged in the murky floodwaters.
Worse still were the homes. Families helplessly watched as years of work were washed away in minutes. Photographs were destroyed, priceless possessions were buried in mud and family heirlooms and keepsakes were lost to the wrath of the storm.
But in all of the wreckage, there was a consoling display of humanity. Neighbors rushed to evacuate those around them, friends offered warm meals and cozy beds, and perfect strangers showed up with shovels and buckets to lend a hand.
All weekend, volunteers helped strip homes bare to the studs, piling tons of soggy drywall and carpet on muddy, debris-strewn yards.
The congregation of the First Baptist Church of South Pittsburg helped residents clean up. Members of the Monterey, Tenn., Lions Club pitched in. The Kimball Tabernacle of Praise recruited volunteers to help flood victims on its Facebook page. The Salvation Army's mobile kitchen provided more than 100 meals a day.
Churches of Christ Disaster Relief Inc., a Nashville-based organization, donated a truckload of supplies worth nearly $70,000 to help those impacted by the flooding.
The Southeast Tennessee regional branch of the American Red Cross reminded us again why the organization is our nation's greatest source of comfort and relief in times of disaster, providing temporary shelter to those whose homes were left uninhabitable.
Despite all of the helping hands and kind hearts, more assistance is needed. The Chattanooga office of the Salvation Army requests Borax and baby diapers. South Pittsburg Police and Fire departments are asking for donations of mops and brooms to aid in the cleanup efforts.
After the media coverage subsides and the teams of volunteers slow to a trickle, those devastated by the floods will continue to face exhausting work and painful loss. We must not let them confront those challenges alone.
Let's continue to support the flood victims with our time, our donations and, as businesses open back up, our patronage. After all, these are our neighbors. They would do the same for us.