TN steadily rebuilds

Last May, a deadly tornado ripped through Jackson, Tenn. the second major storm in four years to devastate the area.

BY HEATHER MOYER | JACKSON, Tenn. | March 22, 2004



"We've made so many good friends it's been a rewarding experience."

—Kathy Weichman


Last May, a deadly tornado ripped through Jackson, Tenn. the second major storm in four years to devastate the area.

The Rev. Val Treece of the Jackson Family Worship Center, a nondenominational church, said two major storms in only a few years has had a long-term impact on the Jackson community. "The tornado in 1999 hit the same area as this one in 2003," he said. "When you have a storm hit two times that quick, that creates some angst and makes people a little gun-shy."

Last May's storm damaged more than 2,400 homes in Madison County, where Jackson is located. The tornado completely destroyed 118 of those homes. Yet the area is steadily rebuilding. Again.

Treece said he's overwhelmed by how wonderfully the community responded. "The recovery effort has gone great," he said. "The community cooperation has been excellent and the neighborhood churches have done a great job."

One local group assisting the relief is Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS). MDS has seen a steady stream of volunteers lend their time and talents to the cause. "We've worked on 129 homes so far and still have more to do," said MDS Project Director Kathy Weichman. "A lot of homes are still damaged."

Volunteers with MDS serve one-week terms and include both skilled and unskilled workers. "We've had a good mix of ages and regions that the volunteers are coming from," said Weichman. "They do mostly cleanup and repair. We've made so many good friends it's been a very rewarding experience."

Kathy Weichman and her husband Bob are both serving as project directors for the next several months in the Jackson MDS recovery. She said they are doing everything they can to help the homeowners who experienced the F-4 tornado last year. "We try to be as helpful as we can," she said. "Many of them are very grateful to have us build or repair their home."

Housed in the same building as MDS are the volunteers and project directors of the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC). Their involvement started the week after the tornadoes hit last May, said CRWRC Jackson Project Director Fred Visser.

"We're also doing home repairs with our volunteers," said Visser. "We're working with the local chapter of Habitat for Humanity in a project to build eight new homes for residents whose homes were completely destroyed."

Visser said four of the homes are already completed and they expect the remaining four to be done by September. "We keep a team of 22 volunteers on hand at all times, and then they rotate out every three weeks," said Visser.

"They've come from all over the country."

And who owns the building that houses all the CRWRC and MDS offices and volunteers? None other than Treece's Jackson Family Worship Center.

"We were in the process of buying the facility which is now called the Dream Center right before the tornado hit," said Treece. "When it hit, the final paperwork was almost done, but we still didn't officially own it yet. I had to call the owners to ask if we could open a shelter there for the survivors, and thankfully they had no problem with that."

And those volunteers and organizations in Jackson have been busy. According to a report released at the end of January from United Way of West Tennessee and Jackson's Disaster Recovery Services (DRS) organization, volunteers put in an estimated 45,000 hours since May 2003.

The volunteers are scheduled to keep coming as the months go by, said both Visser and Weichman. Weichman added that they will keep working as long as it's needed. "We've learned a lot and we keep learning," said Weichman.

"You always get more than you give."


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