It’s been 4 months since disaster struck the Great Smoky Mountains. On the night of November 28, 2016, a firestorm changed a community forever. The destruction is clear cut into the mountains of this community, but what isn’t so clear to the public eye is the destruction caused to the soul of this community.
Gatlinburg, and Pigeon Forge are tourist towns, the people are driven by welcoming guests and a spirit of serving. Millions visit every year to see God’s beauty in the Mountains here. But what keeps them coming back are the hard working, self-sacrificing people of this community. Putting their all into serving and making a community for the world to be proud of. Southern Hospitality shines here.
A Faith based community, the love for God, family, community and Country abides in every heart and soul here.
Taking jobs that pay very little with a sense of pride is what drives this community. It’s not the leaders, it’s not greed, for the soul of this community. Greed drives the leaders, (as it does in most tourist based towns)but the soul of the community is driven by the blood, sweat and tears of a community who loves their neighbors as they love themselves.
This spirit is what drew me here and what keeps me here.
This Spirit is in danger of collapsing. It’s feeling the throws of a death rattle, as civic and community leaders look to marginalizing their loss, the pain that cannot be measured by dollar signs causes a great schism of divide.
I came to this community looking for peace in a tumultuous world. We were welcomed with open arms, just as they welcome all guests.
Of course there are those who love money that take advantage of the heart of those who strive to serve with love and excellence, and that is attempting to sweep the catastrophic wounds under the rug.
Yes by Amazing Grace this community will rebuild, it’s people will rally together, and hold each other tight, as many leave. They will stay. We lost 14 precious souls in the fire that night. And so many more with deep invisible scars, scars that will never heal. You see, a building does not represent a home for us, it’s the Spirit of love, unity and servitude that binds us here. Something the leaders don’t understand.
The heart of the Smokys will live on, in the memories and the blood sweat and tears of the people.
One thing this disaster has taught me, is you can not rely on Government for safety. A system failed that night, not only that night but for all nights past, present and future. It failed to provide for its brave first responders, it failed to provide training to its citizens, it failed in equipment that would have saved lives. It failed.
And no vows to improve and never forget has been proclaimed by leaders. No vows to learn from mistakes. You see you have to recognize your failures and mistakes and learn from them to make real change. Something that leaders driven by dollars refuse to do. There were many warning signs leading up to this disaster that were ignored. Drought conditions for at least 2 years. Communication failures for years. A communication failure even the governor recognized when he attempted to allocate funds to improve and give Internet access in these rural areas. But the lawmakers in the capital here voted it down. Adopting a head in the sand attitude as long as dollars are pouring in is a sad reality, that cost lives that night and led to the deep scars of not only the people who live here but those who travel here also.
I still cry, I still feel the fear and uncertainty from that night and always will. The charred skeletons of homes and businesses are the visible scars. The broken hearts and souls are the invisible.
The outpouring of love from our guests provide so much comfort as we struggle with pain and even anger as we remember how little was given by leaders. Those civic leaders and even the managers of the corporate hotels that fled that day to safety leaving the workers and guests on their own will be etched in my mind forever. Our heroes were overwhelmed that night, the simple training of businesses and citizens could have saved lives that night. But sadly what should be lessons learned are lessons forgotten.
So yes, we are strong, and we will be ok with God’s help, but to snub your nose in the face of tragedy, and ignore reality is a travesty. We will band together and serve as always. This love will heal us.
The guests will return, and they have and to them I say Thank You, thank you for the love you show for us in your tears as well. Thank you. And Thank You all for your outpouring of love and support. Your giving loving sprit gives hope in darkness.
My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.
Commentary By C.Refsland