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Severe lightning heralds an EF-2 tornado as it heads toward Hendersonville on Dec. 9.

Featured Article

Hendersonville is Rising

Neighbors Band Together to Help the City by the Lake Recover from a Devastating Tornado

“Come on, people now, smile on your brother. Everybody get together, try to love one another right now.”

Get Together, The Yardbirds/Chet Powers

It is often said that people are at their best when times are at their worst.

When the going gets tough, people tend to forget about their differences and focus on the common good. They reach out a helping hand to those who are suffering, and they offer hope and reassurance for the future.

Never was the sentiment truer than during the weeks following the devastating tornado that struck Hendersonville during the early evening hours on Saturday, Dec. 9. The massive 400-yard-wide funnel cloud left a path of destruction across the city. Hundreds of homes and businesses were damaged during the storm, and area residents were left without power for up to five days.

As the sun rose on Sunday, Dec. 10, reality set in, as residents and business owners were able to assess the scope of the damage. Homeowners and proprietors found themselves facing tough decisions about how to carry on, and how to begin to recover from the disaster. Many of them had no idea about where to seek help and from whom to seek it.

Fortunately, they were not alone.

Thanks to the efforts of several community leaders, help was on its way within hours after the storm had passed.

Both Erin Birch, executive director of United Way of Sumner County and Kathleen Hawkins, president/CEO of the Hendersonville Area Chamber of Commerce, immediately sprang into action to create a collaborative plan to help those impacted by the tornado. Due to their individual roles, Erin concentrated on the needs of individuals and families, while Kathleen focused on helping local businesses.

“During times of trouble, United Way’s role is to help individuals, families and communities begin to rebuild as soon as possible,” says Erin. “We raise funds, garner resources and mobilize volunteers.”

The duo began brainstorming on Saturday evening, and by early Sunday morning, they had developed a plan to open a recovery center at the Chamber’s event space at the Streets of Indian Lake.

Along with setting up and operating the recovery center, the duo developed a comprehensive communications plan. They and their staffs spent considerable time making calls, sending emails, making social media posts and sending out press releases to keep the community informed about what aid resources were available, what more was needed and how to drop off/pick up recovery materials.

“The outpouring of support that we received from the community was phenomenal,” says Kathleen. “We received so many donated supplies that our recovery center was overflowing.”

While setting up the recovery center was a prime focus, the two agencies coordinated with the city to secure aid from both the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Small Business Administration. Both agencies had personnel available to help businesses and individuals apply for relief programs.

Although the Chamber and the United Way spearheaded many of the recovery efforts, they received a great deal of support from the City of Hendersonville.

“Our city departments really came through for us during this emergency,” says Kathleen. “They all worked hard to help us identify and mitigate the needs of our residents and businesses.”

Erin agreed with Kathleen, adding her gratitude for the flow of information that they received from the city.

“All through the crisis, city personnel worked hard to make sure that we were aware of people needing help,” said Erin. “They helped us gather and distribute goods and volunteer resources on a timely basis.”

Thanks to the combined efforts of the Chamber, the United Way, the City of Hendersonville and scores of donors and volunteers, thousands of dollars in donated goods were distributed to businesses and individuals across the community, helping to jumpstart the road to recovery.

There is no doubt about it – neighborly love is alive and well in Hendersonville.

"They were not alone."

"Neighborly love is alive and well in Hendersonville."

  • Many homes were severely damaged during the Dec. 9 EF-2 tornado.
  • Businesses, such as the Holiday Inn Express, work to recover following the Dec. 9 tornado.
  • Volunteers sort and pack relief supplies at the recovery center.
  • Volunteers load recovery supplies for a family.
  • Volunteers arrange and label relief supplies at the recovery center.
  • A volunteer greets persons seeking help at the recovery center.
  • Chamber CEO Kathleen Hawkins and United Way CEO Erin Birch stand amid an assortment of cleaning supplies.
  • Over 750 volunteers participated in relief activities across the city.
  • The Small Business Administration had an onsite team to assist impacted individuals and businesses.
  • Severe lightning heralds an EF-2 tornado as it heads toward Hendersonville on Dec. 9.
  • Volunteers work to clean up a home in Winston Hills following the Dec. 9 tornado.