'Every single person mentioned God' CBS News correspondent says of Tenn. tornado victims

Published: Mar. 5, 2020 at 9:43 PM EST
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The lead national correspondent for CBS News spoke with

about his journey into tornado-torn Tennessee.

David Begnaud spent several days in Putnam County after an EF-4 twister touched down, tearing apart homes and families.

It was part of a destructive storm system that spawned six tornadoes across the state in the early morning hours of Super Tuesday, March 3.

"What did you see or hear that will haunt you in the days to come?" asked Hara. "I'll never forget the neighbor who said, 'When I came out of my house, the first and only thing I heard were people screaming for help everywhere,'" responded Begnaud.

Begnaud, who's covered some of the biggest natural disasters including Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, said there was something unique about how Tennesseans reacted to the devastating storms.

"There was a resilience that seemed to bond them together which was inspiring to me... Every single person I talked to mentioned God. I will never forget Eric said, 'How are we here? How do you explain this? How do you explain that every single piece of my home is gone and I'm still here?' Nearly every person mentioned God," Begnaud recalled.

Five children were among the 18 people killed in Putnam County. Officials said 400 homes were damaged, 31 commercial structures were damaged and nearly 100 residences were totally destroyed.

One of those children was Sawyer Kimberlin. His mother, Erin, and his father, Josh, were also killed in the tornado.

Begnaud spoke to their family, too. "Sawyer, one of his favorite books was the church hymnal, and he loved to direct music." Begnaud added that Sawyer had just had a birthday.

"As I wrote the story, what I made sure, was that the lines of track--what I would say in a story--weren't just about the really bad things that happened to them. I wanted you to know that Sawyer loved to direct song, and he just had a birthday...I wanted the story to be more than about just their death," he said.

Amid so much loss and sadness, Begnaud said there were moments of joy. From a couple that survived and got engaged, to family treasures that weathered the storm. "It was the people walking away from their homes with the bible untouched, the photo unscathed, that’s what I remember. The people who were walking away with one little document in their hand as if it were something precious, and it ultimately was to them. Those were little moments of joy," said Begnaud.

'Every single person mentioned God' CBS correspondent says of Tenn. tornado victims

What makes Tennessee such a special place? There are so many ways to answer that question. Here are thoughts from David Begnaud, the lead national correspondent for CBS News, on the heels of his journey into tornado-torn Tennessee.

Posted by Amanda Hara on Thursday, March 5, 2020

Victims of the tornadoes are still cleaning and rebuilding. To help them, go


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