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TN recovery nears completion

Recovery from last spring's destructive tornadoes in central Tennessee is nearing an end, but local responders say they will still help residents whose needs linger as they continue to rebuild.

BY HEATHER MOYER | GOODLETTSVILLE, Tenn. | March 14, 2007

Recovery from destructive tornadoes last year in central Tennessee is nearing an end, but local responders say they will still help residents whose needs linger as they continue to rebuild.

Tornadoes ripped a path through Sumner and Davidson counties last April, damaging at least 1,000 homes. The small towns of Goodlettsville, Gallatin and Hendersonville were severely damaged.

While many residents had some insurance, responding agencies provided assistance to those whose insurance was not enough to cover the total cost to repair or rebuild. The agencies also helped those who were uninsured.

"We've helped at least 65 families," said Judy Vecchione, director of the Goodlettsville Help Center. "We're still helping some that are just now rebuilding. We expect to keep helping as they rebuild, and to help recruit more volunteers."

In Gallatin, the non-profit social service agency Gallatin Christian Association for Relief of Economic Suffering (Gallatin CARES) assisted at least 25 families in the past year.

"We did anything we could to help," said Jane Murray, the agency's director. "We helped people with rent, utility bills and medical bills. We helped families get vehicles back in working order so they could go back to work. We worked on fences, helped remove carpets and more."

The Goodlettsville Help Center and Gallatin CARES were both part of the Sumner Area Disaster Recovery Coalition (SADRC), a long-term recovery committee set up to help affected families. SADRC was composed of local community groups and faith communities.

SADRC spokesman Mike McClanahan said the group was surprised that more residents did not seek help.

"We had (the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee) come in to do a needs assessment last summer, and only about 26 families requested help then," he said. "We had a hard time locating people who were displaced, but many others just said they were doing fine and that their neighbors needed more help than them. We still see a few houses with blue tarps and there may still be some needs, but we've tried every way we can think of to get them to come forward for help."

McClanahan said SADRC was still helping some families and that it would continue to operate for as long as needed.

"We're at the point now where we're telling folks that if they're having problems with their insurance companies or with attorneys, we're willing to help them in those situations as best we can," he said, noting that SADRC still has funds available to assist families with their extra bills.

Many of the local agencies, such as Gallatin CARES and the Goodlettsville Help Center, seemed to handle the brunt of the needs, said the Rev. Jason Brock, a member of SADRC and director of love and justice for the Tennessee Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.

"Each of the agencies helped in their own way," Brock said. "What (SADRC) tried to do was to catch those who weren't covered by any of the individual agencies. We wanted to cover anyone who was missed."

Brock said case management training from the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) helped local agencies to respond to post-disaster needs. He added that SADRC will remain intact and not only assist those who come forward for help later, but will work on disaster mitigation.

"We want to help people prepare for the next disaster, whether it's in five days or five years," he said.

Brock credited the immediate outpouring of support from the community and from throughout the U.S. in helping to get affected families back on their feet quickly.

McClanahan agreed, noting that groups of volunteers moved through affected neighborhoods in the first few weeks after the tornadoes, removing debris and helping with repairs. He added that even CRWRC workers were amazed by how well all the communities had pulled together in the aftermath of the storm.

The Rev. Kelan Motton agreed that community support played a key role in the recovery.

"Thank God, with the help of this community, everyone's spirits have kept up," said Motton, whose church, Baker's Chapel Christian Methodist Episcopal in Goodlettsville, was heavily damaged by the twisters and must be torn down and rebuilt.

The church has been operating out of free office space provided by the town's mayor. Some affected church members were given rent-free lodging as their homes were being rebuilt or repaired.

"The tornado pulled the community together," Motton said. "It crossed denominational lines and color lines, and it's been a lasting change. It continues now."

Plans are being finalized for Baker's Chapel CME church facility, which will be built on the same spot as the old building. Motton is also in touch with Vecchione of the Goodlettsville Help Center as it continues to assess needs in the church's neighborhood, where many of the church members live.

"We know we still have some who need repairs and continue to deal with insurance companies," he said.

For residents still struggling, SADRC and its member agencies will remain available, officials said.

"We're still very open to help anyone who comes around," said Murray of Gallatin CARES.


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