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Tornado’s huffing and puffing did not blow Chandlers’ Cherokee Valley house down

Google Maps’ aerial images of Cherokee Valley still show a pastoral landscape of lush, green grass and heavily timbered slopes. But Chris and Shana Chandler now see a different view from the Greystone Drive home where they are raising their two daughters.

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Shana and Chris Chandler stand in front of their damaged but still livable home in Cherokee Valley with Phil LeLievre, district vice president for America’s Home Place which built their home to the industry’s highest standards in 2005. Their house is the only thing in the vicinity still standing.

“I was happy we survived but I’m sad because my cherry trees are gone,” said 8-year-old Josie.

The home is the only thing in the vicinity that withstood the recent tornado that brought winds so strong its whirling debris scoured grooves into the house’s compact yard (meteorologists who visited the site estimate wind speeds of about 197 mph to create those swirl patterns). Where there was once a forest of hardwoods, there is now hundreds of acres of pulp pine that were shredded while standing.

“We [mother and children] were in the basement,” recalled Shana Chandler. “I was ironing and we were watching the news. We have satellite TV and suddenly lost the local channels. I’d started texting a friend when the power went out.

“The girls and I were about to get into bed but something felt funny — maybe it was the pressure change — and instead we got under the stairs. It was 8:24 p.m.”

Within moments, the storm was upon them.

“The pressure on your ears, you could hear windows blowing out and what sounded like thunder and lightning — that was the sound of falling trees,” she went on. “Then it got quiet. It was 8:30 p.m. I looked out and where there had been 50-foot tall trees everywhere, I saw toothpicks.

“I finished my text message at 8:56 p.m. with, ‘We’ve been hit.’”

Chris Chandler was driving home from Lexington, Ky., at the time. Rather than exit Interstate 75 at Ringgold and drive north to his home in the valley, he chose to come home via East Brainerd Road.

Surprisingly, Cherokee Valley Road was open to traffic from the north. That is until he reached Greystone Drive.

Utility lines, splintered tree trunks and debris blocked his road home, so he struck out cross country to reach his home and family. Climbing the steep slope through a landscape ravaged by the tornado’s course, it took him about 90 minutes to reach the ridge crest.

“It took 2 1/2 hours to carry the kids down,” he said.

This was not the family’s first encounter with nature’s fury.

“We moved out of Atmore, Ala., the week Hurricane Ivan came ashore,” Chris Chandler said. “It took the roof off our house.”

Their home in Ringgold did not escape unscathed — windows popped, some siding was peeled away, and a section of roof is now bandaged with a bright blue tarp. But the family was unharmed.

The Chandlers credit their home’s survival to Providence, fate and the fact that it was built, perhaps even overbuilt, in 2005 by America’s Home Place.

The company uses the strictest standards in the industry, like California’s which must deal with earthquakes and coastal areas that have to handle hurricanes. Phil LeLievre, district vice president for America’s Home Place, could offer no explanation as to why the Chandlers’ home still stands, but suggested building to tighter codes might be a factor.

“We built a house in Trenton that basically went through the same thing that day,” he said. “When a customer calls and tells you, ‘We’re thankful to be alive!’ it makes you feel good.”

While America’s Home Place might use the Chandlers’ testimonial in local, perhaps national advertising, Josie Chandler already speaks for everyone in the storm’s path.

“I was happy when it was over,” she said.

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