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TN recovery nearly done

The tornado recovery process in Jackson, Tenn., is nearing completion.

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

The tornado recovery process in Jackson, Tenn., is nearing completion.

"We're not at the end just yet, but we can see it," said Christy Smith, executive director of the United Methodist Disaster Recovery Services (UMDRS).

In May 2003, tornadoes leveled over 100 homes and damaged hundreds of others in Jackson and across Madison County, Tennessee. That was the second tornado to hit the area since 1999, so area agencies moved quickly to meet the needs of the affected families.

And now, almost a year and half later, the final touches are being put on rebuilt and repaired homes. Smith's UMDRS handled the recovery case management, working very closely with the Jackson interfaith recovery team, Disaster Recovery Services (DRS).

The final volunteer rebuild teams are scheduled for October, and after that, the disaster recovery office will close. DRS still has some funds to distribute, which will be utilized as any more unmet needs are identified.

"We plan on doing a survey of our current clients to make sure any other unmet needs are met. Also, a few new cases are still surfacing here and there, so we're discussing which local agencies will be able to handle any further lingering needs. That's a challenge, but it's very important to us."

The recovery process was a coordinated ecumenical effort with Smith giving much praise to Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) and the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC) for being such committed home rebuild groups.

Over 200 homes were repaired or rebuilt, some in coordination with the local chapter of Habitat for Humanity. CRWRC completed their work last week, and MDS will pull out this week.

"We're sad at seeing our dear friends who've been such pivotal parts of the recovery move on. They must have donated over 100,000 hours of volunteer work - put a dollar amount on that!" said Smith.

Other faith-based disaster relief groups donated significant time and money to the cause as well, she added, "from the Methodist and Lutherans and the Baptists - everyone."

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, the United Church of Christ, and Church World Service also supported the interfaith efforts.

According to the West Tennessee Healthcare Foundation, one of the DRS funders throughout the recovery, the disaster relief efforts of 29 partners yielded more than $4.3 million in benefits to Jackson and Madison County residents after the 2003 tornadoes. Over 550 families were assisted in the process. Smith added that they could not have done all the work they did without help from local non-profit and government agencies, too.

And DRS did total how much all the donated labor hours from MDS and CRWRC would have cost: More than $1.5 million. The work done by their 1,500 volunteers from across the U.S. and Canada is something Smith said the community will always appreciate.

The celebration and recognition events for all the completed hard work were held last week and in August. Last week's event, sponsored by the West Tennessee Healthcare Foundation, recognized outstanding volunteers and participating recovery organizations.

Smith said the Methodists held a "thank you" worship event back in August that was well attended by the participating agencies and many of the families that saw assistance from DRS. "This was where we talked about how far we got with God's help. It was very moving to hear the (families) speak about how they understand and know God. They taught us as much as we helped them."

UMDRS and DRS will not forget the families as they close down operations later this year. "It's been a remarkable recovery, but we don't want to leave anyone without help, either."

Smith's skills are now being called upon for Florida's hurricane recovery. She will soon head to Arcadia, a small town devastated by Hurricane Charley in August, to help pass on what she learned from the Jackson recovery. "We're grateful to help any way we can. If what we know and learned helps down there, then thank God."

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