By Michelle Price
Special to the UCBJ
COOKEVILLE – Today, President Donald Trump visited Cookeville and the areas devasted by Tuesday morning’s tornado before visiting with the survivors and their families.
“I have a message for the families of those that lost their lives. We love them; they’re special people,” said Trump on national television. “It’s an incredible place, an incredible state. Tremendous heart.”
The president was impressed by the efforts of the residents and volunteers and the great amount of cleanup that has already been accomplished.
“Already, you see people rebuilding,” Trump acknowledged. “I mean, it took place literally hours ago — a couple of days — and they’re already rebuilding. I’ve never seen — we were flying over; you see the blue roofs going up. It’s all over the place.”
Trump commended Tennessee Governor Bill Lee and Mayors Randy Porter and Ricky Shelton saying that everyone was talking about the job that they have done.
The president seemed touched by the events of the night, especially the stories of the victims and traumatic experiences they endured.
“A lot of them have lost people within the family,” Trump reflected. “One family got entirely wiped out. There was one case, though — I heard a young man was — an 8-year-old boy was ripped out, flown to a certain area, and dropped off at the street two or three blocks away and they found him walking. And he said, ‘I just flew in the air.’ And he was walking down the street two blocks away from his home.”
Trump asked about the boy’s parents and was sad to learn that they were found deceased in their home along with the boy’s sister.
When asked by reporters at the site of the devastation if he has any words for the victims that he might not be able to meet today, Trump responded, “Well, I love them. I love them very much. That’s why I’m here.
“There was no way that I wasn’t going to stop here first. And I was going to do it yesterday, but they asked me for one more day because they were looking for bodies, believe it or not, up until just now. They now — they’ve pretty much covered everything. But — and just God be with them. And we’re going to be with them. We’re going to be with them all the way.”
The President and his entourage also toured the collection site at Jefferson Avenue Church of Christ and met with victims there. While there, he commended the volunteers for their efforts in all the many roles they have served.
“Incredible. The people are incredible,” Trump said. “We spoke — what they’ve done with the first responding and all of the care — emergency, fire, every aspect of it. The law enforcement was really not law enforcement. They just went out, and they went out and did a great job of safety. Because you have such great people here, you don’t have to worry about the law enforcement; you have to worry about just helping them. And you did it.
“You did a fantastic job. I want to thank you for that. What a job you did. We’re all talking about it too. So, I hope they talk about it because you deserve it.”
As Trump was leaving, he again expressed his pleasure with Cookeville’s response to the disaster.
“Thank you all. We’re going to make a couple of other stops. We’re going to CDC later on, but this is inspiring to see the way it all came together. Even all of this — Churches of Christ — tremendous amounts of food and goods, and it all came within a matter of hours,” Trump said.
He added, “So, it’s a case study — a case study of what should be done and how it can be done. It’s Tennessee.”