published Saturday, September 24th, 2011

Sand Mountain facility damaged by April tornado

Volunteers carry boards for the frame of a cabin at Sand Mountain Bible Camp in Trenton, Ga. The cabins will serve as boys dorms when they are completed. An April tornado caused about $2.3 million worth of damage to the camp.
Volunteers carry boards for the frame of a cabin at Sand Mountain Bible Camp in Trenton, Ga. The cabins will serve as boys dorms when they are completed. An April tornado caused about $2.3 million worth of damage to the camp.
Photo by Mariann Martin.
  • photo
    Coleen Pridemore carries a board for the frame of a cabin at Sand Mountain Bible Camp in Trenton, Ga. The cabins will serve as boy's dorms when they are completed. An April tornado caused about $2.3 million worth of damage to the camp.
    Photo by Mariann Martin /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

TRENTON, Ga. — Coleen Pridemore was listening to Chattanooga radio station WMBW-FM Thursday morning when she heard about a tornado rebuilding effort at the Sand Mountain Bible Camp.

On Friday morning, Pridemore, with a nail apron around her waist, carried two-by-six boards over to concrete blocks laid for a cabin.

“I kept telling myself I need to get involved [in tornado cleanup],” said Pridemore, who lives in Rome, Ga. “I hadn’t done anything. But when I heard about this on the radio, I decided to come.”

Pridemore is an example of the loosely organized group that has come together from various places in Georgia to help disaster victims on Sand Mountain.

Friday’s group of about 20 volunteers included members of First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Ga., the Carl Black Automotive Group, which has dealerships in Georgia, Tennessee and Florida, and friends of both groups. They planned to stay overnight and continue working on the project today.

Sand Mountain Bible Camp, which hosts church group retreats and youth church camps from around the nation, suffered a direct hit from the April 27 tornado that laid waste to so many area communities.

Seven or eight buildings, including the camp’s sanctuary and boys’ dormitory, were destroyed, and every building had some damage. Thousands of trees in the camp’s 107 acres fell in tangles among the steel and debris.

The federal Small Business Administration estimated the total damage at $2.3 million, said Philip Trask, who runs the camp.

“It’s really exciting to see some progress,” Trask said Friday as he watched the first cabin take shape. “I’ve spent the whole summer cutting trees and cleaning debris.”

He said volunteers from various church groups have been an immeasurable help all summer.

Next weekend, Brad Prater and a group from Church at Northside in Rome plan to return to continue building six 20-by-40-foot cabins that will serve as boys’ dorms.

  • photo
    Doug Russell and Linda Moody cut boards for three cabins at Sand Mountain Bible Camp in Trenton, Ga. on Friday morning. Volunteers from various groups worked to rebuild part of the camp that was destroyed by the April tornadoes.
    Photo by Mariann Martin /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Some involved in the project are experienced builders, while others have never worked on a construction site. Most of them working Friday didn’t even know each other’s names as they cut lumber and teamed up to nail the first boards in place.

Jay McAnnally, chaplain for the Carl Black Automotive Group, said it has been wonderful to see how relief efforts have coalesced among groups that had not met before the April storms.

McAnnally met Prater in the first weeks after the tornadoes when both men were working on County Road 95, an especially hard hit area on Sand Mountain near Higdon, Ala.

He had known about disaster relief efforts from Woodstock but never collaborated with the church. Now McAnnally hopes to continue organizing the groups in rebuilding efforts as well as work after future disasters.

The group will have access to equipment and trucks from the Carl Black Group and volunteers from churches, he said.

“There will always be more disasters, and we’ve seen there’s a real need,” McAnnally said. “We want to put together people who can move extremely fast and respond where they are needed.”

about Mariann Martin...

Mariann Martin covers healthcare in Chattanooga and the surrounding region. She joined the Times Free Press in February 2011, after covering crime and courts for the Jackson (Tenn.) Sun for two years. Mariann was born in Indiana, but grew up in Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Belize. She graduated from Union University in 2005 with degrees in English and history and has master’s degrees in international relations and history from the University of Toronto. While attending Union, ...

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