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TN families coping post-twister

Three months after tornadoes struck Tennessee, families are left with serious needs.

BY HEATHER MOYER | DYERSBURG, Tenn. | June 14, 2006

"We've finished up the heavy cleanup and now we're in the rebuilding phase."

—Bill Carr

Nearly three months after deadly tornadoes struck Tennessee, families are left with serious needs.

Some families lost homes and some lost family members. The needs range from new roofs to cars to grief counseling, said the Rev. Dr. Phillip Cook of First United Methodist Church (FUMC) in Dyersburg. "Everyone here is at various of levels need depending on the kind of damage or injury they saw or sustained," said Cook, FUMC's senior pastor.

Cook said one survivor he's met with lost a parent to the tornado and was the only survivor on one road that was devastated by the twister. While providing that person emotional support, Cook's church has also provided a rental car because the family lost everything - including their transportation. "We rented (the survivor) a car to get to Memphis for medical treatment," he explained. "We also got them a freezer to store donated food because they've been living with family or friends in the meantime."

The early April tornadoes in western Tennessee killed 24 people and destroyed more than 100 homes. Hundreds of other homes sustained severe damage. The hardest hit counties were Dyer and Gibson, and Cook said his church is helping the long-term recovery committee in Dyer County. "The volunteer response office has moved into our church," he said.

FUMC also provides housing for volunteers in town helping families rebuild or repair homes. Cook said the church has housed work teams from many states so far and continues to seek out groups for future rebuild work. He said the pace is slow, but that's necessary. "There is a lot of interest but we don't want to rush it yet," he explained, saying finding the correct work site for each team is a detailed process.

Bill Carr is also helping organize the volunteer home repairs. A disaster relief volunteer with the United Methodist Church's Memphis Annual Conference, Carr has been in the Dyer County area since right after the tornadoes struck. "We've finished up the heavy cleanup and now we're in the rebuilding phase," said Carr. "We've got roofing crews in here now."

Carr said financial support is needed to help continue the repairs and rebuilds, as are skilled volunteers. "We've got about 80 projects on our list right now. Some folks aren't going to rebuild and others haven't decided yet. Yet sometimes as neighbors see others rebuilding, they then get inspired to do it."

He added that he's also assisting the parishioners of Christ United Methodist Church. The tornado also leveled their building and the congregation is meeting in a local school in the meantime. Carr said rebuilding that church will be a major healing point for the community, which saw that congregation and building as a major support.

Another church leveled during the storms was Calvary Baptist Church in Rutherford. The country church was only one of several structures still standing after the tornado tore through one neighborhood in Rutherford. Many people died along that road as well, said Mike Kemper of the Gibson County Baptist Association (GCBA). "It's a small congregation, maybe 20 to 30 people, but they were hit hard," said Kemper, director of missions for the GCBA. "Several members were killed, others lost families, and many lost homes."

Kemper said he's had Southern Baptist Disaster Relief teams in since the storms hit. For some time those teams were cutting up the immense amount of downed trees and removing debris, but now they've also started in on roofing and rebuild projects. The GCBA is also providing affected families with financial support and holding fundraisers for the recovery process.

The small Gibson County town of Rutherford was devastated by the April tornado, but Kemper said people banded together quickly and are looking ahead. "They're all doing well under the circumstances. They're regrouping and making plans for the future."

And like Carr, Kemper echoed the need for financial contributions and volunteers. "They're always needed and appreciated."

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