Recovery looks long for TN

More than three months have passed since tornadoes tore through western Tennessee.

BY TRAVIS DUNN | JACKSON, Tenn. | August 13, 2003

"Right now we're trying really hard to get roofs on people's houses."

—Christy Smith

More than three months have passed since tornadoes tore through western Tennessee. While most of the visible debris has been cleared, there still remains quite a bit left to do. Rain still streams through leaky, damaged roofs, and more than 500 residents in the city of Jackson alone are in need of long-term help, according to Larry Dooley, chairman of Disaster Recovery Services, an umbrella organization that comprises more than 20 faith-based and civic groups.

DRS, created in the wake of a 1999 tornado that killed nine people in Jackson, was reorganized immediately after the May tornadoes.

This time around, the group has the support of a large, high-profile fundraiser, Storm Aid, which brought three major country music acts, Darryl Worley, Vince Gill and Amy Grant, to the Jackson's AA baseball stadium Tuesday night. Proceeds, which will be directly accessible to DRS, totaled at least $500,000.

DRS, Dooley said, already has two major activities underway case management, under the direction of the Methodist Disaster Recovery Services, and roof repair, coordinated by Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS).

Methodist Disaster Recovery Services is supported by the United Methodist Committee on Relief, working through the Memphis Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.

According to Christy Smith, the director of the Methodist case management team, the Methodist workers are fielding requests from Madison as well as Henderson and Dyer counties. Requests from the latter two counties are passed along to new recovery partnerships in those counties. Requested goods and services range from food to mental health counseling and free legal services.

Almost all requests for roof repair are referred directly to the MDS workers, directed by veteran Mennonite construction supervisor Jerry Klassen.

"Right now we're trying really hard to get roofs on people's houses," Smith said. "That's the priority right now."

But Dooley points out that, besides all the roof repair, there are also 50 homes in Jackson alone in need of complete rebuilding. That's a tall order for the Mennonites, whose numbers range from seven to 20 on any given day.

So Dooley is looking to convince the local chapter of Habitat for Humanity to bend its rules, so its workers can give the Mennonites a hand in rebuilding destroyed homes. Normally, Habitat volunteers only build new homes for first-time homeowners with low incomes.

"But they're willing to consider this," Dooley said, "and I think we'll be successful in convincing them."

Despite the current level of volunteer help, and the half million dollars from the Storm Aid concert, DRS still needs the help of more volunteers, skilled laborers in particular

In particular, he is looking for trained estimators, carpenters, electricians and plumbers. The more free labor they have, the more money they can spend on building supplies and other necessities, he said.

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