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'It definitely changed our lives'

The recovery from the April tornado in Dyer County, Tenn., is near completion, and there's a move now to educate people for the next possible disaster.

BY HEATHER MOYER | DYERSBURG, Tenn. | February 21, 2007


"It wasn't about being a Methodist or a Baptist, it's about being a servant of God. We worked together."

—Bill Carr


The recovery from the April tornado in Dyer County, Tenn., is near completion, and there's a move now to educate people for the next possible disaster.

The Rev. Robert Craig, associate pastor of First United Methodist Church in Dyersburg, Tenn., said he's helping lead a disaster response training at the church this weekend for anyone who's interested. "We'll mostly teach the most appropriate way to respond in the wake of a disaster," said Craig, who is also the volunteer coordinator for Dyer County Disaster Recovery Services Committee.

"Most people want to jump right in and help, but we want to teach the things people need to do for their own safety and for the safety of those who are doing the immediate response. We'll also focus on the initial versus the long-term response, how to be more coordinated and how to be most effective with the resources you can offer."

The skills have been learned by the county long-term recovery committee (LTRC) since last spring when a deadly tornado struck the county, killing more than 20 people and damaging or destroying hundreds of homes across the region. Craig said through excellent coordination and cooperation amongst the various relief agencies and county organizations, the long-term recovery for Dyer County is now wrapping up.

"Our group, through donations, has been able to help many of the families replace furniture, repair homes, clean lots or just whatever they needed to try and get their lives back to normal," said Lisa Ramm, the county's LTRC president.

Craig said the LTRC handled around 160 cases since April, and said the committee helped families with no insurance or insufficient insurance.

Bill Carr said he was amazed at how quickly the LTRC moved forward, choosing to meet weekly and handle the needs as best and fast as they could. "They were relentless," said Carr, a disaster recovery coordinator with the Memphis Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. "They did their job and they did it well. My hat's off to them and all those who stepped up."

Carr did his part by leading volunteers who came to help the families repair or rebuild homes. He said many of the affected residents moved in with family and so much of the home rebuilds were really adding new rooms or "apartments" onto existing homes. Through help from United Methodist Volunteers in Mission teams, Mennonite Disaster Service, numerous local churches and many other national denominations, Carr said the work got done together.

"It wasn't about being a Methodist or a Baptist, it's about being a servant of God. We worked together."

The outpouring of support from volunteers and from agencies near and far was overwhelming at times for both Craig and the families being helped. "It was such a meaningful thing for me to see, all of these folks responding to their neighbors' needs. It was a great opportunity to work with these folks and the opportunity to see many of them live out their faith. It was really moving to the families, too. There were lots of tears shed. Many relationships were formed, and some families and volunteers still call or email each other to stay in touch."

Only a few cases remain for the LTRC, said Craig. Carr added that one of the lingering needs his volunteers will address now is the remaining debris in farmers' fields.

The emotional and psychological impact of the tornadoes lingers as well. The LTRC members made sure to offer counseling and hold community gatherings to address that need, said Craig. "There's still fear. Any time there's a call for a thunderstorm, there's a fear for those folks who went through it. That's probably true for everyone in the county, but it's especially true for those who were in the path. The kids, too. When it thunders, they cry."

Like Carr said about some residents choosing to move in with family, Craig estimates that around 25% of those who lived in the path of the April tornado did not build back where they had been. He added that many lots where families were killed remained vacant.

This weekend's disaster response training is a move to keep disaster response and readiness in the front of people's minds. The LTRC will continue to meet as well, Craig added, not only to address the last few cases, but to also talk about future response.

"Heaven forbid this should happen again, but I do think we're a lot better prepared now than we were. It has definitely changed our lives."


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