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What Tornado Damage Looks Like In Putnam County, Tenn.


So many volunteers have come to the city of Cookeville, Tenn., to help with rescue operations that the police chief is urging them to stay clear - at least for now. Cookeville is in Putnam County, east of Nashville. And the tornadoes that struck early yesterday morning hit the area hard. At least 18 people were killed there.

Katelyn Steakley lives in Cookeville. She couldn't really leave her home, but she wanted to do something. So now she's coordinating help via the Facebook page Cookeville Strong.

KATELYN STEAKLEY: You know, I have two small children, so there's really not a lot of options to get out there and help right now. So I felt that the best way I could help was just doing what I know to do, and that's coordinating people and efforts and using social media. And then I just was seeing a lot of people, like, finding lost objects. It was really odd how things went, I guess, up in the tornado and then scattered people's belongings, like, all over town. Their photos, like - of people are miles away in people's yards.

CORNISH: Can you describe maybe two objects that you saw pictures of that you thought, wow - I mean, they had just been so far-flung from the people who own them.

STEAKLEY: All of the pieces - I actually went to a friend's house, and we were picking up pieces. And her house is about three miles from a check stub that we found on the ground with the actual address. There's also - unfortunately, a lot of the photos that people are finding are pictures of people that are deceased or badly injured because it is stuff from their home where they literally were pulled away. And that's probably been the hardest part - is - and the oddest part is that a lot of people were finding the same person's photos. I would say a majority of the photos belonged to one or two people that people were posting from all over.

CORNISH: That's incredibly disturbing. How are people taking that? I mean, what are the comments like?

STEAKLEY: There's not been, like - I mean, I don't know a huge response towards it. There's a lot of people saying, you know, we're praying for your family, and we're keeping you lifted up. But I mean, what else can you say?

CORNISH: Do people come to the Facebook page also looking for help or make requests?

STEAKLEY: Yeah, we've seen a few requests for help. Most people - it's their friends asking for them. So they're asking for clothing, and then people are jumping on that. And they're getting together and taking people they know or acquaintances clothes in the certain size of children or family members that are in need because there are just so many people who absolutely - they lost everything.

CORNISH: How long have you been living in Cookeville?

STEAKLEY: I have lived here my entire life.

CORNISH: So you've experienced tornadoes before.

STEAKLEY: Yes, but I wouldn't call them experienced compared to this.

CORNISH: What's touched you most?

STEAKLEY: Well, the - just outpouring of support. I think in these situations, as bad as they are, we do see people come together. And considering that Super Tuesday is probably one of the more divisive time anyways, to see people really come together and work together and not care anything about how they feel about what someone thinks - it's really enlightening. It's a beautiful picture of just community and the type of people that we have here in Cookeville. I'm sure that most places are like that, but I feel like we have a really special place here. And I'm just lucky to call it home.

CORNISH: Katelyn Steakley, thank you so much for speaking with us.

STEAKLEY: Well, thank you. I appreciate it. And I am so thankful to talk to you.

CORNISH: That's Katelyn Steakley, lifelong resident of Cookeville, Tenn., and now administrator of the Cookeville Strong Facebook page. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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