Chattanooga pastor, wife share terrifying tornado experience

Chattanooga pastor, wife share terrifying tornado experience

The Rev. Adam McKee and Charlotte McKee are living in a hotel while their home is repaired, but they said many of their neighbors' homes (as pictured) were demolished.

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CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. -- The Rev. Adam McKee was unaware that a deadly storm was bearing down on his neighborhood shortly before midnight on Easter Sunday.

He was alerted by his Amazon app voice, Alexa:

“Tornado warning. Seek shelter now.”

Adam McKee prayed as he ran upstairs to wake his wife Charlotte. The couple rushed downstairs to the basement as a terrifying noise began to crash through the house.

“It sounded like a freight train,” Charlotte McKee says. “It was quite a scary event. Our dog was trembling.”

The McKees survived the storm physically unharmed, although their home did not. The storms that ripped through the South earlier in the day arrived in Chattanooga late on April 12, damaging at least 150 homes and commercial buildings.

Some of the heaviest damage occurred in East Chattanooga, including the McKees’ neighborhood in Holly Hills.

“It looks like Ground Zero or worse. It looks like somebody threw a bomb,” says Charlotte. “It brought tears to my eyes.”

Ten people were killed in the greater Chattanooga area from the April 12 storms, including two in Hamilton County, one in Marion County and seven in Murray County, Georgia, according to the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Adam McKee, pastor of Harrison United Methodist Church, and spouse Charlotte are temporarily living in a hotel. They described how they stayed in their basement throughout the early hours of Monday, April 13, even after the storm passed.

“We were afraid to move,” Charlotte said. “It was black dark outside, and we were afraid to go out and touch anything because we didn’t know if it was secure.”

About 3 a.m., Adam heard knocking on the door. He left the basement briefly to let his neighbors and emergency workers know he and Charlotte were OK. He used his flashlight to flag over a paramedic to help his neighbor, who was trapped beneath some brick.

After a sleepless night, both McKees finally stepped outside in the morning light to see the damage.

“The living room has holes in the roof where you can see the sky,” Charlotte said. “The entire sun room is demolished. I don’t know where the storm took the sofa. The porch is now a concrete slab.”

A huge tree was uprooted in the backyard but fell in the opposite direction of the house. “It would have crushed us,” Charlotte said. “But after seeing the other houses, we feel very blessed.”

A 91-year-old neighbor survived by standing in the shower as the storm ripped off her roof. The couple next door was sleeping when the tornado tore open their bedroom, trapping one of them beneath the debris. The neighbors are all safe now and have found temporary shelter.

As for their home, “it’s going to take us six months for the repair work to be done, if it can be repaired,” Adam McKee said.

The McKees live about 15 miles away from Harrison UMC and do not live in the parsonage.

Charlotte said they met with a contractor today, and she was horrified when she shook his hand out of habit –- momentarily forgetting social distancing recommendations during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s 100 percent harder now to go through this, but what can you do?” she said.

Church members at Harrison UMC have been concerned and have offered to help, the couple said.

“We have a great, loving church,” Charlotte said. “They are seeking to be supportive, calling to check on us, to help us, to feed us.”

Last Saturday, the McKees posed in their backyard for a video clip to share Easter greetings with their congregation. Charlotte said she noticed how beautiful the day was. She’s stunned to think how dark the events of the next day would be, how her backyard now bears no recognition to the video.

Despite the hardships, the McKees say they know they are blessed. “I believe God was in this. If he wasn’t, we wouldn’t be here to talk about it,” Charlotte said.

“We have to be thankful,” Adam said. “We have major damage, but we were among the blessed. We’re shaken but we’re not broken. We were passed over.”

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Annette Spence

Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newsletter.

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