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TN recovery wraps up

The families of Rhea County, Tenn., have come a long way.

BY HEATHER MOYER | SPRING CITY, Tenn. | February 15, 2005

"We had quite a good group of people helping us out."

—Rev. Randy Schmittendorf

The families of Rhea County, Tenn., have come a long way since the remnants of Hurricane Ivan flooded their homes.

When the Rev. Randy Schmittendorf first sat down with some of the affected families immediately after the storm, he saw many tough emotions. "I went door to door, and people were in shock - in a blur. Everything they had worked for was gone."

Last September, the remnants of Hurricane Ivan forced rivers from their banks in Rhea County, Tenn., which damaged numerous homes in Spring City and in Graysville. Soon after the flooding, the Rhea County Interfaith Disaster Relief Committee (RCIDRC) formed to help affected families.

Now, some six months later the disaster recovery process in this eastern Tennessee county is winding down.

"We've helped 32 to 33 (families) thus far," said Schmittendorf, chair of RCIDRC's board of directors. "We're down to about three now."

The interfaith committee had a large mess to contend with. Schmittendorf said the flooding in Spring City was the worst seen since the 1950s due to how the water came through town. Rushing river water knocked down a building, he explained, and the roof from that building blocked the run-off. "The water rose eight feet in three hours. Parts of downtown had water two to three feet high."

From there, the run-off became clogged up at a railroad underpass, and that back-up flooded nearby houses. Schmittendorf said many of the damaged homes were trailers.

With the help of a Volunteer Energy grant and generous donations from 84 Lumber, RCIDRC's coalition of Lutheran Disaster Response, Adventist Community Services, local churches and social agencies helped families replace insulation, flooring, duct work, one roof, and numerous appliances.

"We had quite a good group of people helping us out," Schmittendorf said, adding that the initial interfaith set-up assistance from Church World Service was extremely beneficial.

And now that the recovery is slowly phasing out, RCIDRC's board says instead of dissolving - they will instead go inactive. "There's a survey out showing that Rhea County has a disaster about every four to five years, so we want to be ready for next time."

Chuck Kinney, RCIDRC's executive director, agreed. "We learned a lot from this process and we want to be ready when it happens again."

Kinney said he's seen the change in the families' emotions over the past few months. The committee has received numerous thank you notes with people saying they don't know what they would have done without us, he noted.

Schmittendorf thinks another reason the families appreciated RCIDRC so much is due to the willingness of all the committee's members to be right in the middle of the recovery operations.

"It was important for these families to see us willing to get in there and help tear up carpet or flooring, that lets them know we care," he explained. "And then sometimes I spent a lot of time with folks just listening to them."

Despite the damage done to so many homes and the majority of Spring City's downtown business district, the community spirit was positive. Schimittendorf said he spent the first two days of the flood helping two stores move their stock out of the water's way. Once the water had receded, he saw many local volunteers come in to help the businesses clean up.

"Every business has since reopened," he said.

One store run by the Spring City ministerial alliance was severely damaged by the floodwaters. Our Daily Bread offered food and clothing to economically disadvantaged people, but lost almost their entire stock in the flood. Schmittendorf said because of the generous outpouring from the community, it only took a short while to return the store to normal - and that's just the way people are around there.

"To look at that store today, it looks like (the flood) never even happened. People donated like crazy so the store could continue to help others."

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