Storm cleanup looks long-term

Jim Shelly has been cleaning up after disasters for years.

BY TRAVIS DUNN | JACKSON, Tenn. | May 28, 2003

Jim Shelly has been cleaning up after disasters for years. As field consultant for Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS), Shelly goes from disaster to disaster, coordinating the work of volunteer cleanup crews. Shelly, a Mennonite from Meridian, Idaho, has held his position since 1994.

His work in Jackson isn't very glamorous, but it's exactly what residents here need. There are hundreds if not thousands of downed trees all over the city, and people want them gone.

Shelly has had 30 local Mennonite volunteers at his disposal in the last three days. Within the next week, he plans to have a full-time staff of four to eight people, and he is in the process of setting up a base in a building donated by a local Church of Christ. The new space will serve as both office and living quarters, and will include showers and a dining area. Once bunk beds are built, Shelly said between 15 and 20 volunteers will be accommodated.

"We have men in here with chainsaws," he said. "And with the non-skilled volunteers, it's moving the debris to the curbs."

Having a mixture of skilled and unskilled labor is important, he said, since both kinds of work need to be done.

MDS is one of many faith-based disaster response groups working in Jackson.

"A lot of people who have chain saws are not skilled in felling trees," Shelly said. "We don't want the trees landing on wires or houses. But there are plenty of jobs for the unskilled workers as well. There are a lot of trees in the yards. There's a tremendous amount to remove yet."

This task will likely be sped up because of an arrangement made by the city of Jackson with a contractor. Shelly estimates that debris removal will now take about another two or three weeks. A full recovery from the tornado is likely to last a lot longer.

"The size of the disaster and what has happened here some of the relief agencies are saying four years. I'd say at least two years," Shelly said.

After most of the debris has been cleaned up, Shelly and his workers will shift to roof repair. There is no shortage of work in that area there are more than 2,000 damaged roofs in the city of Jackson alone.

The next stage will take even longer. This is the kind of work for which the Mennonites are famous rebuilding the homes of uninsured, elderly and disabled people.

Again, there is plenty of need: in Madison County, where Jackson is the county seat, more than 2,400 homes were damaged in some way by the storm, and 118 of those were totally destroyed.

For now, the Mennonites are concentrating on damage in Jackson. At least 25 homes there will need to be rebuilt, Shelly said.

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