SHELBY – A gauntlet of destruction surrounded drivers along Plymouth Springmill Road on Sunday afternoon. But on Tuesday, it was a beacon of hope.
Just south of the intersection at State Route 96, half a dozen homes represent some of the most significant residential damage as a result of an F2 tornado that hit Shelby on Sunday. According to the National Weather Service, maximum wind speeds were estimated at 120-125 miles per hour, and the tornado's maximum width was half a mile wide.
Dozens of volunteers roamed through the neighborhood cleaning up tree branches, roof shingles, gnarled pieces of metal and in some cases, wood framing that was formerly a wall.
Nowhere was the damage more prominent than the property of Jim Bly, crawling with people organizing piles of debris and pulling remnants of his home out of their backyard pond. Only 48 hours removed from the storm, the outpouring of support was still overwhelming for Bly.
"Every time I think about it, it touches my heartstrings," he said. "I love Richland County, I love this area, I don't ever plan on leaving. And this is the reason why."
On Sunday afternoon, Bly and his wife were at home when a tornado warning came across their phones. Shortly after heading to their basement, the lights flickered and went out. Then Bly decided to peek outside, across a field to the southwest.
"Whatever it was, it was huge," Bly said. "I went down the steps, as soon as the door shut the house started shaking. It was a weird sound ... the thing I remember the most was the shaking. The whole house literally shook. And I looked at my wife and said, 'The house is gone.'"
Later that day in Wayne County, Brad Stull was watching the evening news and heard of a family in Shelby who had completely lost their home to the tornado. He immediately recognized the man on television, and his resolve was firm.
"I knew we had to do something to help," Stull said.
In 2018, when the Wayne County Fair was in danger of flooding, Stull and Bly became fast friends when the Richland County Fair accepted 370 pigs to save the fair. If the situation hadn't worked out, the Wayne County kids would not have had a hog show.
"We had no clue how to run a show over here and how things flowed, but Jim was there every day and our show went flawless because of Jim," Stull said. "We want to pay it back however we can - unfortunately, it's under these circumstances."
Stull brought a crew from Wayne County to help the Bly family with cleanup, and they weren't alone. Crowds of volunteers from church groups to FFA teams to motivated individuals moved from house to house along Plymouth Springmill as they were needed.
Jack Colegrove from Ganges Community Church stood at a folding table across from the Bly property, two Crock-Pots full of warm fillings for sandwiches. In his 16 years living in Shelby, Colegrove said he'd never seen anything like the recovery efforts unfolding in front of him.
"You hear about it all the time, but I've never experienced it," he said. "But this is what we're supposed to do. If we didn't do this, we wouldn't be Christians."
One house over, a crew of union members from ArcelorMittal in Shelby were picking up the pieces of Shelley and Gene Carey's home. Their barn and garage was mostly destroyed, but their above-ground pool remained intact. A sign reading "Our Happy Place" lay nestled the rubble.
"The Tuby union, they're the backbone of everything we do," Gene Carey said. "They brought everybody to help us."
On Sunday afternoon, Shelley Carey was busy baking cookies in preparation for a fundraiser to benefit a local toddler with cancer - the cookies remained on the counter on Tuesday. Gene was outside in the barn with the couple's four bulldogs. That's when the tornado hit.
"He called me from the barn and said get to the basement," Shelley said of her husband. "He got all four dogs in (the barn), and he hunkered down, and the only thing he protected was his head."
"I didn't have enough time," Gene added. "The building was shaking from the wind. I had scratches on my head, and I think it was insulation in my eyes. I don't know how, but I survived."
Still, the Careys count themselves lucky.
"Everything that happened to us can be replaced," Gene said. "There are some people that lost everything, that has to be built from the ground up."
Handing out snacks and bottled water on the Carey property was Lisa Coy and Lynn Westmeister, two individuals who had been working since 7 a.m. to help deliver meals to those working on recovery efforts. The duo joined the efforts of Sweet Dreams Bakery Shop and Ted & Ali's Café to put together meal boxes.
For Coy, her volunteer efforts were also about paying it forward: Two years ago her home, just down the road on Plymouth Springmill, was destroyed by a fire.
"So many people just wanted to help," she recalled through tears. "The community came out and helped us tremendously, and I wanted to make sure I gave back what they gave to us."
A resident of Shelby the past 30 years, Coy knows the power of community.
"When it comes to this, Shelby really comes together," she said. "They want in their hearts to help, so that's what they do. This community sticks together when something really bad happens, it doesn't matter if it's one person or the whole town."
Jim Bly knows the power of a community coming together as well. But not from this perspective.
"I've never been through this," an emotional Bly said. "I've always been one to help, to try to make something better, and now the shoe is on the other foot and I don't quite know how to act."
However, he doesn't take it for granted.
"There's a lot of unknowns. And to some degree, it's quite scary," he said. "But I want to thank these people from the bottom of my heart. We've started a bond that is not going to be broken."