published Monday, May 9th, 2011

Tornadoes’ costs may be slow to tally

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REGISTER WITH FEMA

By phone: 1-800-621-3362 GA TN

Online: www.DisasterAssistance.gov

Via smart phone: m.fema.gov

Collegedale: Hulsey Recreation Center, Southern University, 4870 University Drive. Hours 8 a.m.-8 p.m. seven days a week.

Cleveland: 10 Church St. Hours 8 a.m.-8 p.m. seven days a week.

Rainsville, Ala.: Tom Bevill Ag Center, 115 Main St. Hours 7 a.m.-7 p.m. CDT seven days a week.

Ringgold, Ga.: Adult Learning Center, 36 Muscogee Trail. Hours 8 a.m.-7 p.m..

Rock Spring, Ga.: Walker County Ag Center, 10058 N. Highway 27. Hours 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Saturday.

Rome, Ga.: Hamler Gym, 300 W. Third St., Rome. Hours 7 a.m.-7 p.m.

Trenton, Ga.: 1 Case Ave., Trenton. Hours 7 a.m.-7 p.m. (North Alabama residents may also register in Trenton)

Source: FEMA

The costs for the worst storm the South has ever seen may achieve similar superlative status, if very preliminary tallies are any indication.

Of the 305 tornadoes that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates were dropped on the Southeast on April 25-28, at least seven were in Hamilton County where early damage estimates top $35 million, according to local officials.

“I think that’s conservative,” said Bill Tittle, chief of Hamilton County’s Emergency Management Agency.

Troy Spence, Bradley County’s emergency management director, has a higher estimate there: $47.6 million in property damage, and that does not include public school buildings, businesses, utilities, infrastructure, or the cost of debris removal, he said Friday.

Chattanooga spokesman Richard Beeland said city officials estimate the storm already has cost the city $285,000 in overtime and equipment costs alone.

On a national level, Insurance Journal last week stated that the final tallies for the insurance industry will be “in the billions.”

Such assessments shouldn’t be surprising, given the violence of the record-setting storms, officials said.

The National Weather Service now has confirmed at least 20 tornadoes in the tri-state region around Chattanooga. Those 20 tornadoes killed at least 80 and damaged or destroyed several thousand homes.

But just how many, and just how much it will cost to fix them — along with the cost of repaying governments for clearing roads, restringing power lines, repairing schools and restoring communities — is a question that won’t be answered for months, say Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama emergency officials.

“We might have a sense of the cost in six months, or a year or 18 months,” said Dean Flener, spokesman for the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency.

Twister accounting

The hard part of estimating costs isn’t the residential damage, Flener said.

As residents file insurance claims and register for federal assistance to help with what insurance doesn’t cover, those funds will be dispersed and accounted for daily, Flener said.

“The public assistance number is harder to capture. It’s a reimbursement from the federal government to local governments to fix roads, bridges and utilities. Counties [and cities and agencies] have to take care of these costs up front,” he said.

Then there is a federal and state auditing process to ensure the costs are correct.

“We’re still working on that from the May floods [in Nashville] from last year,” Flener said. “We’ve got 6,000 county worksheets from the May floods that we’ve compiled.”

Tittle said Hamilton County will have a minimum of $20 million in government costs.

“That’s just EPB’s amount,” he said. “They’ve spent about $2 million a day.”

The other $15 million in Hamilton County’s “conservative” damage estimate is in residential damage, based solely on a formulaic assessment of the $58 million in assessed value of the real estate in the high-damage areas.

Flener said the cost tallies can only grow because governments and residents are just now moving from search and rescue to recovery.

On Friday, bulldozers were just beginning the task of pushing debris into piles for pickup and burning in Apison.

The individual cost, too, is just beginning to emerge.

In the first two or three days that Tennessee’s first four federal disaster recovery centers were open in four counties, only 1,537 residents registered for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Just on Friday, FEMA announced that two more centers will open in Hamilton County, and six more will open in other Tennessee counties that have just been added to the disaster declarations list.

Tennessee now has 10 disaster counties, including Hamilton, Bradley, Bledsoe, McMinn, Monroe and Rhea.

Georgia, so far, has 25 declared disaster counties, including Catoosa, Dade, Walker, Floyd and Gordon. Alabama’s 41 declared disaster counties include Jackson and DeKalb.

about Pam Sohn...

Pam Sohn has been reporting or editing Chattanooga news for 25 years. A Walden’s Ridge native, she began her journalism career with a 10-year stint at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. She came to the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 1999 after working at the Chattanooga Times for 14 years. She has been a city editor, Sunday editor, wire editor, projects team leader and assistant lifestyle editor. As a reporter, she also has covered the police, ...

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