Long-term recovery seen in TN counties

Volunteers help survivors, pray for hurting, and plan for future.

February 10, 2008

Picking Up the Pieces -- Faith-based volunteers, including more than 60 United Methodists from the Memphis area, helped residents of Huntersville, TN, find personal belongings after tornadoes destroyed their homes last week.
Credit: Cathy Farmer, Memphis Conference UMC

The whine of chainsaws and rumble of front-end loaders were just some of the sounds in the tornado-ravaged portions of Tennessee this weekend as volunteers helped homeowners begin to pick up the pieces of their lives.

At the same time, disaster response organizations have been busy assessing needs and planning for what is expected to be long-term recovery.

In churches throughout the same areas Sunday, churchgoers prayed for the survivors and families who suffered losses and recounted their experiences Tuesday night and the days that followed.

At Promise Church in Jackson, TN, the storm predications Tuesday night caused the church to cancell a planned meeting. At home with his family, Pastor Jay Hutchens went to the bottom of the stairs in his home to wait for the storm to pass through.

After their electricity went out, Hutchens used text messaging to get weather updates from friends. When the storm passed their home, they first heard hail hitting the house, followed by 30 seconds of "an incredibly loud noise," then stillness. Hutchens said he'd always heard that when the silence comes is when you should be most concerned. "But after that we didn't hear anything. It turns out the tornado touched down about 500 yards from our house. Acres of trees were chopped off. They look like they were weed-eated. It's the wildest thing I've ever seen," Hutchens said.

Once out of the clear, Hutchens began checking on church members. A member who lives in a nursing home was evacuated to the lobby and dining area. Hutchens said, "It's a good thing they were evacuated because the living facility was hit and the roof taken off. Had he been in his room he would probably have been killed."

Promise Church was unharmed by the tornado and Hutchens said he plans to work in coordination with the Jackson Area Minister's Association (JAMA) and the Regional Interfaith Association (RIFA). "Everything we do will be done in concert with other churches. It makes sense to work cooperatively," Hutchens said. They plan to meet next Thursday to determine what the community's needs are and how they can best be met.

United Methodists in the Memphis and Jackson areas have also been busy. The Memphis Conference of The United Methodist Church has been coordinating volunteer teams, staffing a hotline for those wanting to assist and planning for short-term relief efforts that may take weeks.

As Emergency Services Coordinator for the Tennessee VOAD, Mike Overcash is working both with first response organizations as well as planning for future aid. "Many groups are in stand-by mode waiting for requests for assistance," Overcash said.

Many other faith-based organizations are working to provide immediate relief. Jason Broch, Disaster Response Coordinator for the Tennessee Conference of The United Methodist Church said his organization's response will initially provide immediate help to those in need and then transition to long-term help.

Broch said the United Methodists in the central part of the state plan to offer counseling services, as well. "We'll have pastors and others available who have experience with responding to disasters so we can counsel those in need."

In addition, the TNVOAD is working to make contact with other agencies and organizations so they can work as partners to aid those outside of their church membership. "We're working to build relationships and determine what long-term help is needed," Broch explained.

The Churches of Christ Disaster Effort, Inc., based in Nashville began immediate first-response relief. Already, two trucks carrying food boxes, water, blankets and pillows, hygiene boxes and baby infant supplies have dispersed. Their intent was to provide aid as quickly as possible. Ralph Coles, assistant to the director, said, "Our job is working as first responders."

Trucks have gone to Lafayette and Hartsville, TN and Choctaw, AK. Supplies in Hartsville will be distributed by the Hartsville Church of Christ. Coles said they're currently working on loading a fourth truck to distribute supplies to Atkins, AK or Jackson, TN.

Of the supplies sent, Coles said they're sending those that are most needed in the beginning of such a crisis. Shipments include 200 boxes of food; each box, weighing 44 pounds, will feed a family of four for five days. Also included are chips, drinks and approximately 4000 MRE hot meals in addition to cleaning products, blankets, sheets and comforters.

Part of the problem they're experiencing is that many of the Churches of

Christ buildings still don't have power so Coles is working with other organizations to help distribute the resources. They plan to continue shipping supplies for as

long as needed.

In Lafayette where the tornado left more than 20 people dead and destroyed hundreds of homes and businesses, those churches not damaged by the storms have stayed busy. Lafayette United Methodist Church helped connect survivors and their families on Wednesday and Thursday and Pastor Ralph Wheaton of New Life Baptist Church his church is working with other churches and organizations to determine needs and provide long-term assistance.

"We plan to work with and establish a relief center that is ongoing until the situation is resolved," Wheaton said. The church is currently housing 100 people as well as providing hot meals while the surrounding area is cleaned up.

Wheaton, echoed the resolve of many other faith-based responders when he added, church members will help rebuild the community, "until the last floor is

nailed down and the last shingle reattached."

Other faith-based organizations are helping in myriad ways. The Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief (TBDR) has chainsaw teams working in Hardin County and Madison County. In addition, they have alerted feeding teams for deployment when needed. The TBDR also sent a generator to Hartsville, TN to provide power for EOC operations there.

The Salvation Army is providing feeding canteens to serve survivors and clean-up crews across the state.

Even the Nashville Humane Association is involved. The Nashville Disaster Animal Rescue Team is working in Macon County to assist with pets and farm animals. Their 32-foot RV is located at the American Red Cross human shelter and is offering emergency animal sheltering. According to Mary Pat Boatfield, executive director for the Nashville Humane Association, as the power is off in many areas, their goal is to provide heated temporary shelter for pets who have lost their home to power outage. They also have supplies such as carriers, food and leashes available.

-- Jill Dutton contributed to this article.

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