The Jan. 30, 2013, EF-3 tornado that struck Adairsville tore through the heart of the city, causing one death, and within minutes first responders and volunteers were on the scene.
“When the storm hit, Randy Gray, our road department superintendent, and I was in Adairsville, on the east side of 75 when the storm hit,” Bartow County Commissioner Steve Taylor said. “So as soon as the wind quits blowing, we come across the bridge and see devastation that you wouldn’t imagine. Some of the first people I saw that showed up with help was Georgia Power. They showed up with Janet Queen.
“I look up, and there she is with a pickup driving right down amongst the chaos with food and drinks on it, getting out and saying, ‘What can we do to help?’ Those were the kind of things that just started snowballing, and we had, seems like, we had more volunteers and more help and more food and clothing than we did the need. But it just kind of warms your heart to see people like that jump in.”
The damage, Adairsville Mayor Evan King said, put him into shock.
“I was in shock for several days. To see your family, your neighbors, your community struggling through the devastation that had taken place — it was just a shock for several days,” he said.
David Franklin, with the Bartow Baptist Association, said a total of approximately 6,000 volunteers came from all over the nation to help with the relief and recovery efforts after the storm. The faith-based community’s response to the disaster, with it working closely with county government, has been recognized at a state level for emergency response.
“It’s amazing how much better we did in Bartow County than any other community. As a matter of fact, they’ve actually changed the Georgia Emergency Management Plan to better include the faith-based community,” Franklin said.
Area churches’ involvement with disaster relief dated back to the 2011 tornado on the south end of the county, Franklin added, which brought the faith-based community to the attention of local government in terms of disaster response.
“One, the government asking the faith-based community was huge. Two, you got to know the faith-based community wants to help. So a group that was wanting to help, being asked to help and being at the table before the disaster hit so that we knew what our role was, was absolutely huge,” he said.
King said he appreciated how so much support came from Bartow County.
“It is nice to have the folks who did the majority of the work from the faith-based community, the folks from the community who worked so hard, the city employees, who worked so hard to clean up and rebuild, all did a tremendous job, and for them to be recognized speaks of their commitment to the community,” he said.
In addition to area churches working together as one, local businesses volunteered their time and services to assist Adairsville residents. When the Daiki plant was heavily damaged during the storm, Northside Bank opened “immediately,” Taylor said, to help employees get their paychecks. While Northside worked to handle Daiki checks, Johnny Mitchell’s Smokehouse set up in the lobby to serve breakfast.
“Long story short, we fed over 1,000 people,” Jonny Mitchell said. “Now, I don’t have that kind of capital to buy that much food, you know. ... I put it on a credit card, and we talked about it, prayed about it. ... But I knew we didn’t have the money for it, and I said, ‘Jill, something’s telling me to help.’ She said, ‘OK,’ and there was nothing else said. There was no arguments. We just discussed it.
“The next day I got a call from a donor that donated several thousand dollars to help pay for all that — unsolicited.”
Mitchell said Cartersville-Bartow County Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Joe Frank Harris had contacted him the night before and asked him for his assistance if anything happened in the county when the predicted storm moved through.
“We said, ‘Joe, if you all need any help, if anybody needs a meal, if anybody gets displaced, call me.’ It was about 4 o’clock the next morning, 5 o’clock, he says, ‘Johnny, I hate to call so early, but you asked if you could help.’ He says, ‘We need your help.’ I said, ‘I’ll be there,’” Mitchell said.
In the hours after the tornado touched down, Harris, then chamber Chair Wayne Moore and Adena Harper, the chamber’s current chair, toured Adairsville to check on local businesses.
“What I did that day [with] Joe Frank and Wayne Moore is we just went to every business that I know was open to make sure they were okay, just to have Joe and Wayne see them,” Harper said. “So I know we went to Northside. We went to H&R Block. We went to Ace Hardware. I think we probably went by United Community Bank. We went by Adairsville Eye Associates. I went to a lot of people that I knew had been there the day before.
“... Mainly what it was for them to realize that we care about them, that they are a part of us ... When Wayne said we were a family two weeks before, people thought, ‘Oh, that was a nice phrase,’ you know. But this way we showed them, sincerely, we do care about you.”
As the immediate relief efforts shifted toward recovery, and the damage’s dollar value was added up, it became apparent there would not be any aid coming from the state or federal governments. Bartow County was on its own.
“I think we was just under the threshold. It was supposedly a $100 million [threshold], and I think our estimate was in the mid-80s,” Taylor said. “I’m not really sure about those numbers, but I know we missed it barely as far as aid goes. On the good side is, it wasn’t quite bad enough to get the aid. On the bad side, we missed the state and federal aid. Then, back on the good side is, I think we as a community rallied because we didn’t get the aid. It wasn’t out there, so the local communities had to just rally and do things ourselves.”
For Franklin, the first weekend after the tornado moved through Adairsville is one of his standout memories of the recovery period.
“The first Saturday we had over 1,800 volunteers, outwards, and 177 chainsaws and to see the mass of humanity, of the good hearts of people who were out there — families, little kids, people dragging sticks, people cutting stuff up — you just had to sit there and say, ‘You know what? It’s good to know there are people who still have the heart,’” he said.
Even eight months later, Taylor said, volunteers were still working to haul away the last of the debris. During the recovery period, according to Franklin, repairs, renovation or rebuilding efforts were completed on 33 homes. The last one, a new home built for Jackie McConnel he added, was another special memory.
“To be able to give her a key for a new structure totally free, I’m going to tell you what, that was special. ... Somebody asked, what stands out? That’s a very quick response. I mean, when you can give somebody a house, that’s huge,” Franklin said. “I mean ... it’s just a fun thing to be able to give somebody a house that volunteers built and to be able to do that — it wasn’t like I did anything. I was just there. I was able to watch Doug Harris give her a key, and that was fun. That was just too much fun.”
A year later, with repairs on Daiki’s facility still underway and four Adairsville businesses joining the chamber of commerce in one month, Harper said she is happy with how the city’s business community has come back.
“It’s exciting to see the growth that’s occurring. It’s because of people. They have a resilience in their personality, their desire to make a contribution to their community. You can look at Daiki. They could have gone somewhere else, but they’re coming back. ... Northside Bank has rebuilt and they are stronger than ever. To me, it shows that they want to be in our community, that they want to contribute and most of all they feel this is where they should be,” she said.
On Friday, Gov. Nathan Deal and Georgia Emergency Management Agency Director Charley English will be at the Adairsville Church of God at 11 a.m. to celebrate Adairsville’s recovery. The event, according to a GEMA press release, will launch the Praise & Preparedness readiness campaign, which will equip houses of worship with the necessary resources to help their communities prepare for disasters.