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Eagles become symbol of hope following tornado at Reelfoot Lake

Bald eagle
Posted at 5:39 PM, Dec 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-21 19:31:52-05

TIPTONVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Eagle nests and cypress trees were destroyed by a powerful tornado at Reelfoot Lake State Park.

The lake is cherished by nature lovers, and people who like to fish and hunt. It’s also one of the top places in the country to eagle watch. It was created by earthquakes, so trees jut up through the water. But now, the landscape has been changed forever.

"I cried. I’ve had a place to stay down here for 50 years," said Stahl Schmitt. "And now I have no place."

The tornado hit two parts of the lake in Obion and Lake counties. Park ranger Warren Douglas said four people died. Two of the tornado victims were a father and his young son on a hunting trip.

"All we could do was pick each other up and move forward, and that’s what we did to get through this," Douglas said.

Amid the darkness, a glimpse of hope decided to fly back home. "Here’s the eagles, look!" Douglas said.

With nests and centuries-old cypress trees destroyed, he thought they'd lost the eagles too. However, the bird that represents resiliency wasn’t ready to give up on their home. "They have an innate sense to be able to survive," Douglas said.

NewsChannel 5’s Chief Photojournalist Mike Rose caught the moment a mated pair warned a young eagle that they’d claimed a new territory to hunt their prey. "Letting him know, go on down the road," Douglas said.

Despite the tragedy, there was a silver lining. With more tree branches gone, Douglas said tourists will have a better view of the eagles now. "It improved their perching habitat where they can hang out, more people will get to see them," Douglas said.

Rebuilding nests and homes will take time, but the homeowners and eagles will do it together.

"There’s no place to come no more and I’m 81 years old," said Schmitt. "It's a lot of work."