GATLINBURG (WATE) – For Claudia López one of the hardest parts of the Gatlinburg fires is explaining to her children why they can’t go home.
López has lived in Gatlinburg for nine years. It is her home, but on November 28 she lost everything to the fires in Gatlinburg.
“An American neighbor came knocking on my door telling me you need to get out and get your kids out. He repeated that over and over until he finally got me to understand it wasn’t safe for me and my family. We left Gatlinburg at 5 pm. It was so hard to breathe,” López told photographer Jeremy Cowart when he took her photo in front of the charred remains of her home.
Cowart is having families who lost everything in the Gatlinburg fires to lie on a mattress where their bedroom used to be. The idea of the project is to show strength.
The single mother didn’t have insurance. Now she is staying in a hotel room, having lost all of her belongings.
“The first thing my little boy saw was his bicycle that was burnt and he started crying because he wanted his house, he wanted his toys, he wanted his room,” said López. “He’s little, he doesn’t completely understand everything. He does start to question and ask about certain things that he had. And sometimes I don’t know what to say and it hurts to see them go from one place to another.”
The single mother of two has been staying in a motel in Pigeon Forge, but in one week she will have to leave the motel she has called her home for the last few days. She is desperately searching for a new home, but said that is proving to be difficult.
“We’ve also run into some racist people who slam the door in your face,” said López. “They’ve done this in front of the children and that’s what really hurts.”
Despite the heartbreak and uncertainty, López said her faith is keeping her strong.
“The lord allows certain things to happen for certain reasons in our lives, but right now one of the most important things is finding a place for my children,” said López.
Tess Werner, daughter of Gatlinburg Mayor Mike Werner and friend of López created a GoFundMe page that has already had donations from dozens of people, giving what they can.
“Claudia is in desperate need of a permanent home for her and her children to feel safe and secure. She goes out daily trying to find something better. However, she hasn’t had much luck,” writes Werner.
López said she doesn’t want to leave Gatlinburg. She wants to stay and rebuild.