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at 'sea of blue tarps'


NASHVILLE, TN (June 8, 1998) -- Nearly two months after two tornadoes touched down in Nashville, Tenn., on

April 16 damaging some 2,000 homes, a new organization is trying to help

residents reduce the number of homes in the "sea of blue tarps" -- the

first visual impression of the thousands of roof-damaged homes in many


In the wake of the disaster, the Nashville Interfaith Disaster Response

(IDR) was formed to help coordinate long-term recovery efforts. Pastor

Lanny Lawler of Nashville's Eastwood Christian Church, chairs the new


"There is a great deal of roof damage," Lawler said. "The tarps are

flapping in Nashville, it's a sea of blue tarps up on roofs. Some 2,000

homes were damaged, so it will be a while before everything gets rebuilt.

In fact, there's not a whole lot of rebuilding that's begun yet.

Currently, IDR is in the second phase of canvassing tornado survivors whose

property was damaged. "What we did the first month (after the tornadoes

struck) through the United Methodist Committee on Relief was a good bit of

canvassing on immediate short-term needs that people had. What we looked

for at that point was if people had food and power. Now we are having to go

back and re-canvass. "What we've found so far, and I assume we will find

more as we go along, are older (residents) living on a fixed income with no

insurance," said Lawler.

Long after federal and national disaster agency personnel leave an area

hard hit by nature's fury, there are still thousands of volunteers who are

desperately needed to not only help people repair their damaged property

but help restore the mental health of disaster victims.

He said that disaster relief consultants "tell us there are always people,

who with insurance and with help from FEMA (Federal Emergency Management

Agency), still have unmet needs. There will also be people who are

way-under insured or who are uninsured with needs, and there will be some

people who come in the middle of the summer and say 'my insurance didn't

cover the damage and who is FEMA?' because they are in shock."

The groups of people that members of IDR is particularly seeking to serve

are elderly residents on fixed incomes and disabled people. "We hope to

have members of the Christian Reform Church (CRWRC), which has specially

trained canvassing teams, come in June 13. We hope we can mobilize the

wider church community in Nashville to get out on the pavement and do

canvassing. We will train them and put them out. They will be asking people

if they have registered with FEMA."

Lawler said so far, tornado victims in Nashville have been slow to register

with FEMA. He said there is also a "good bit of misinformation about what

FEMA and the SBA (Small Business Administration) provide. In addition, "a

lot of people don't fully realize how great their loss is. They look down

the street and see a tree that has crushed a house and they think they

don't have much damage but they really haven't added up how much they have

lost. All the little things add up."

Another mistake people are making, Lawler said, is "a lot of people are

trusting that their insurance will cover everything and that's another

reason they haven't registered with FEMA. I think that is naive. Even with

the best insurance company, agent and coverage there are often things that

aren't covered. Most people we've talked to are covered by insurance but

that doesn't mean they are covered as much as they think they are."

He said people haven't added up the little things and many people who

suffered damage to their homes don't have a replacement policy -- one that

will pay them to replace everything they've lost. "Maybe they have a 80

percent policy. Some tell us 'I'm insured up to $20,000. Well, they only

get 80 percent of that, which is $16,000, and past history shows that often

won't replace what was lost."

During the second phase of canvassing, IDR volunteers will not only ask

people if they have registered with FEMA, but they will also look for unmet

needs such as physical, emotional and spiritual.

"The Red Cross has been doing some canvassing in the area of mental health

needs, and we hope tocoordinate with them as well," Lawler said. "Part of

it is just being sensitive and listening to folks and hear them tell us

what's happening and what they need. One of our members calls it 'spittin

and whittlin' time.'" He said they will do this with a "particular eye on

vulnerable populations like the elderly, those on a fixed income and


"This is a long-term effort because people here won't be back to normal in

two or three months. At some point FEMA and the SBA people will leave, and

then there's only us left to help disaster survivors. We also recognize

it's a long-term effort because people will be rebuilding and putting their

lives back together for two or three years.

"After people determine their needs and assess those needs is when the real

recovery begins. That is when we can coordinate volunteers coming in and

helping with the rebuilding," said Lawler, who expects the rebuilding

process to start this summer.

Posted June 8, 1998

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