I love the jewelry industry, but sometimes events happen that remind us life is not just about business. Here is the story of one such instance.
When I went to bed that Monday night, there were strong storms in our TV viewing area, but about 100 miles north of Nashville. Nothing was in my immediate area, and I was exhausted from moving, so I decided to turn in for the night. Or so I thought!
Like usual, I woke up in the middle of the night because I had to go to the bathroom. I look at the clock, thinking it’s my bladder saying; ‘Wake up Chuck, its 4 am’, but it’s just past midnight. My first thought was; ‘Oh great, is this our new normal now?’ I was finally getting used to the 4 am wake up calls, now this.
As I’m lying in bed, I realized that I didn’t have to pee. Huh? Then I heard the unmistakable sound of tornado sirens going off in the middle of the night. I get up and go outside on my front porch and it was eerily quiet and still. I got one of those creepy feelings you get when something is just not right. As a long-time first responder, I went out to my truck and grabbed all of my gear since it hadn’t started raining yet - and I had a real bad feeling. Once back in the house, I turned on the television, and my emergency radio, and my night quickly shifted into high gear.
Interestingly, I never actually heard the tornado. I was close enough, up on a hill overlooking its path, but I never actually heard it. The weatherman on TV was saying everybody take cover. My radio was saying everybody get rolling, we have a confirmed touchdown. This is what happened next for me.
My first call was to a collapsed warehouse over by John Tune airport (Google this airport and see what happened there). I was in the middle of a long line of fire trucks and emergency response vehicles that were parked about ¼ mile away from the warehouse while the first engines on scene went ahead to investigate. Because the fire department shows up with lots of really big pieces of equipment, the first units on scene will go ahead. Everyone else sits back in a staging area to await further instructions.
A lot of times, the scene of an emergency call-out is very tight, with limited ingress and egress. The last thing you need is a bunch of big trucks blocking your path if you don’t need them there. A lot of times you just need the personnel, not the equipment. Another reason they kept us back was the strong smell of leaking natural gas coupled with the possibility of an explosion. I was in staging, waiting on our search and rescue K9s, when the responders at the collapse sight said that everyone had been accounted for. We were then rerouted to the Germantown area.
Germantown is the cool, new, hip spot in the city. Big, old, ugly, long abandoned warehouses have all been converted into cool new restaurants and loft apartments. It’s also home to lots of brand new, high rise, luxury apartment buildings that house thousands of residents. This neighborhood took a direct hit in the middle of the night. My partner and I rolled up and had to do a double take. Where to start? By now, it had probably been about 30-40 minutes since the tornado hit. People were outside wandering around in shock, looking at the carnage. Most buildings had to be evacuated until structural engineers could get in and assess them. It’s pouring down rain, its pitch black except all of the emergency lights, and a new tornado warning just got issued. Yikes!
In an act of divine intervention, we found no trapped victims and no one injured. While moving from block to block, navigating around all of the debris, we came across a police officer carrying a car tire hollering at us, asking if we had a jack on our truck. We did, so we loaded him and the tire in back of our truck. We went to where his car was disabled with both passenger side tires punctured flat from running over tornado debris. It was here that I learned that the tires and wheels on a police car are much heavier than the ones on your passenger car. Especially if you’re changing a tire during a driving rainstorm, in the middle of a debris field, and your jack won’t go up the last ¼ of an inch, so we had to muscle the tires on the car. We got him rolling again, and we were told to cross the river and head over to East Nashville and take a look. Yikes again.
East Nashville got hit really hard. This was the only neighborhood that suffered casualties. There were two fatalities and one injury that occurred before we got there. Once again, we drove into total devastation, in a blinding downpour, dodging debris and power lines constantly blocking our path. In another instance of divine intervention, we found no trapped victims and no one injured when we arrived.
We drove through, and walked, block after block after block. People were out of their houses, dazed, scared, and in shock, but not hurt. It was truly a miracle based on the level of devastation all around us. By now, the sun was just starting to peak over the horizon and we could start to really see all of the destruction. Everywhere I looked was nothing but absolute and total destruction. And I was about to get a much better look.
At this point, because the tornado hit in the middle of the night, nobody knew the total extent of the damage. We had calls coming in from all across the city, but the powers-that-be really needed to know the big picture. The call came over the radio for me and my partner to report to the police aviation hanger and get up in the air to map and photograph the entire path of the storm and get the info back to the war room where the response was being coordinated.
The war room is an interesting place during a crisis. The heads of every department in the city are all sitting at computer workstations in the same big room with the mayor, the police chief, the fire chief, and the Director of the Office of Emergency Management. Everyone can see and talk to each other in real time. They needed to know what was hit, and what was spared. When we got to the aviation hanger, the Lt. on duty made the decision to split us up and put each of us in separate helicopters so we could cover maximum area. This was going to be my first ride in a helicopter. Yikes! That was one wild ride. I flew over and photographed the entire path of the tornado.
Although we turned around when we hit the county line, the tornado continued and the next communities in its path were not as fortunate as Nashville. The storm intensified and had about a 212 mile track with more fatalities and devastation in its path. Please keep everyone in your thoughts and prayers that were affected by this horrible, devastating storm.
Once we landed, my partner and I went and gave our report to the teams at the war room so they could start dispatching the next crews. And then, for the most part, my day was finished after 14 hours.
Then, I ran home, grabbed a shower, went to work, assembled an engagement ring, set a 2 carat diamond, and got it to the post office just in time for it to go out overnight to someone who was getting engaged the next day three states away.
I wonder if the customer would have understood if I missed the deadline?