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Many TN homes rebuilt but work remains


PICKETT COUNTY, TN (Nov. 18, 1998) -- Seven months have passed since a

fierce funnel cloud split apart Lloyd and Joyce Keys' 80-year-old Byrdstown home. "We lost everything

...everything but the clothes on our back," said Joyce Keys.

The Keys have lived in Pickett County for 30 years, and had bought the

three-story house five years ago. "We had just put down new carpeting five

months before the storm hit," she added.

The family will have the chance to start all over again in a new home

built for them following the tornado. "We're

just now getting in," said Joyce, "but we don't even have the carpet down.

We had some insurance coverage and an SBA loan, but it didn't near cover

all we lost. The United Methodist Church has sent us a bed and a washer and

dryer, and we've had some clothes donated."

The Keys are among 50 Pickett County families who have recently moved into

replacement houses. In all, the April tornado destroyed 68 homes in the

Byrdstown area. Many of these families are living in basements while workers

install electrical wiring, plumbing, and sheet rock But even after the

interiors are finished, there will still be much that needs to be done.

According to the Rev. Gerald Taylor, pastor at the Byrdstown United

Methodist Church, money remains the largest need. "We are $5,000 short on

building supply expenses," Taylor said. "And these families also need startup

items, like bedding, furniture, cooking and eating utensils, and kitchen


Other Pickett County-area residents are trying to help meet some of

those needs. On Saturday afternoon (Nov. 14) Sheila Lowhorn, a teacher and

Chairwoman of Christians Assisting in Response (CARE), delivered bags of

supplies to more than 50 families. The bags, provided by the local junior

women's club, contained blankets, kitchen towels, and Tupperware.

Jeana Taylor, the pastor's wife, is coordinating a project that can only

be likened to a bridal shower. "The United Methodist Church's women's clubs

are currently furnishing gifts for the families," she explained. "As the

items are received, they (the families) will be invited to the church

to take what they need."

Beverly Beckwith, a volunteer coordinator calls herself "the mouth

between the mountains and the city." She has written

letters and made phone calls to let outside communities know that Pickett

County families are moving into their new dwellings and what they will need.

The F3 tornado that touched down near Byrdstown, was one of a violent

streak of twisters that struck Tennessee on April 16th. Throughout the

state, the storm system claimed six lives, destroyed 200 homes, and damaged

2,000 other structures. By April 20, President Clinton had declared six

Tennessee counties major disaster areas.

The tornado that struck the state's second poorest county, leveled 68

homes and damaged more than 100 other structures, including churches,

schools, and barns.

According to Clay Hall, coordinator for disaster response with the

Tennessee United Methodist Conference, the county lost 10 percent of its

family housing units. Although the majority of the owners of the damaged

homes have been approved for FEMA grants and loans, recovery efforts have

been hampered by a shortage of skilled labor and construction equipment, he


In addition to money and home startup goods, flexible, local volunteers are

in demand. Although officials are not encouraging out-of-state volunteers

this winter, they will welcome them again in the spring.

One of the last out-of-state volunteer groups will arrive on Dec. 14. An

Auburn Wesley Foundation (AWF) team of 25 students will spend a week of

their holiday break to repair roofs and winterize homes in the Byrdstown area.

"The area was devastated," said Diane Thornton, Minister of Youth Programs

at a United Methodist Church in Casselberry, FL. She and a group of

college and high school students traveled to Byrdstown a few days after the

storm hit.

"When we got there, people were still stunned. There were clothes

in trees and walls were found a half mile from their original structures. I

remember one young man and his pregnant wife who had lost their vehicle and

their home. Amazingly, the few items that had survived were five bibles." She

and her crew of Florida youths stayed in Pickett County for three days to help

people sift through the rubble and to set up a clothing bank.

Thornton and another youth group developed a relationship with Byrdstown

three years ago through a local mission project. "I couldn't believe what

had happened to the people I had grown to love," she said.

The Byrdstown United Methodist Church has been one of the focus points

for the county's relief effort. Although disaster response funding has been

challenging, more than 100 volunteers from nine states helped rebuild many

of the homes. Taylor said that the remaining displaced families should be

in their new homes early in the new year.

Donald and Shelba Shaver are one of those 18 families who have not yet moved

into a replacement homes. "Everything's slow-going. We wanted to get in

by Christmas, but I don't think we'll make it," Shelba Shaver said. She and

her husband have been living in a small Byrdstown apartment since May. When

their home is ready, they will also need some basic items.

"The church people have made a good, substantial effort in Byrdstown,

but it's still a long-term commitment," explained Beckwith. .

The Tennessee UMC Conference has already provided $80,000 for the

Pickett County relief effort. Other assistance, both monetary and

volunteer, have come from Church World Service, the American Red Cross and

Mennonite Disaster Service.

Posted Nov. 18, 1998

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