Shortly before dark yesterday evening a tornado touched down in Ringgold, doing significant damage to businesses and homes between I-75 and Ooltewah-Ringgold Rd. Currently the level of damage isn’t fully known, but preliminary reports indicate dozens of structures along GA 151, in downtown Ringgold (including two schools), and in Cherokee Valley have been damaged or destroyed by the storm or subsequent fires. News agencies have cited at least seven deaths and one source said Catoosa County requested a mobile morgue to handle mass casualties. (The request might just be precautionary, prayerfully it will go unused.)

As this is written little news has leaked from inside the city since reporters have mostly been kept out and utilities (including Internet and phone service) are understandably patchy. Interstate 75 through Ringgold and Highway 41 are both impassable and other roads are blocked off to discourage looting and “disaster tourism.” Catoosa and Ringgold law enforcement has been joined by agencies from Walker and Whitfield, as have EMT’s working to transport the injured to treatment. (Breaking news and updates on the situation are available through the Underground Facebook and most local news outlets.)

The storm system that slammed into Ringgold has caused tornadoes all over the southeast, a record-setting 140+ twisters. The same system toppled trees all over Rome, damaged or destroyed 50 to 100 homes in Flintstone (without a loss of human life), and killed at least three people in neighboring Trenton. April 27, 2011 will stand for decades as a life-changing date for many living in Northwest Georgia and around the southeast.

Only a few minutes before spawning the Ringgold tornado, the very same storm cell passed slightly to the north of LaFayette. It brought strong winds and brief heavy rain to the Queen City, but no real damage or injury. As it moved into Catoosa County a tornado touched down in Rock Spring and headed towards Peavine, but again no real damage or injury was seen. The same storm system, the same cell with capability to kill, but for whatever reason citizens of LaFayette and Rock Spring – no more or less deserving than Ringgold – were spared from death and destruction

We who live here should pray as the man in the video did, oh God be with ’em. Not only for their own sakes over concern for our neighbors, but because it could very well be us searching in the dark for loved ones, with businesses, homes, and even lives forever lost. Thank God for your own life, then pray that God would be with them – in Ringgold, in Trenton, in Flintstone, in Chattanooga, and elsewhere as paramedics, police, deputies, utility workers, and others from around the region put their own lives on the line to save who they can.

Friday morning as the level of damage becomes clear and more people realize what’s happened, there will certainly be an outpouring of help and support for the citizens of Ringgold and other affected areas. LaFayette and the rest of Walker County will undoubtedly contribute greatly to rescue and recovery efforts – but we have to do so in a helpful way. Catoosa officials have asked volunteers to gather at the Ringgold Ingles so they can be organized and used in the most efficient way possible. Likewise, those interested in helping with the Trenton crisis should first contact Dade County officials and ask where they’re needed most.

Another good way to help is to not get in the way – absolutely do not go to either community just to be a lookie-loo and see the damage – there’s enough debris in the way now without truckloads of tourists driving through the area.

For updates on conditions and specifics about helping storm victims, keep up to date with the Underground on Facebook or Twitter.

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Powerful video shot by Trent Scott, borrowed from Seth Hullander without permission.

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