Still waiting for relief after the tornadoes

Still waiting for relief after the tornadoes

July 25th, 2011 by Kate Harrison Belz in News

A tarp protects a storm-damaged house in Cleveland, Tenn.

Photo by

HOW TO HELP

The Salvation Army's distribution center in Cleveland is still looking for volunteers and donations. To sign up, stop by the center at 2960 Barneys Lane.

Starting Aug. 1, center hours will be 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Monday through Friday.

The center stills needing the following items:

• Furniture

• Laundry detergent

• Dish detergent

• Cleaning supplies

• Toilet paper


IF YOU GO

What: Bradley County town hall meetings

When: 5-7 p.m. nightly

• Tonight - Hopewell Elementary School

• Tuesday - Parkview Elementary School

• Thursday - Waterview Baptist Church

• Friday - Freedom Fellowship Church


STILL NEED HELP?

The deadline for FEMA applications from Bradley County is Aug, 9. Call 1-800-621-FEMA (3362). People with speech or hearing disabilities may call TTY 1-800-462-7585 between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. daily. Or visit www.disasterassistance.gov.

CLEVELAND, Tenn. - Bill Chapman has been camping out in the front yard of his parents' home in the Dalton Pike area of Cleveland, Tenn., since two oak trees smashed through the house's roof and the floor split down the middle in the April 27 tornadoes.

He's waiting there, cooking with propane gas and trying to stay out of the sun, until his parents' insurance company agrees to pay what he says should be fairer compensation for the house's damage.

"The whole structure needs to be rebuilt, and the insurance company wants to patch it," he said. "I've had contractors tell me the house can't be saved, but their engineers say it just needs a new roof."

One street over, Angie Morrow and her husband take turns switching between their tarp-covered home and a rental, trapped until they have an insurance estimate for a roof replacement. They know the insurance likely won't cover enough, but FEMA won't step in until they have the insurance company's precise estimate.

"It's this cat-and-mouse thing," Morrow said. "They bounce you back and forth. Meanwhile, screws and nails are popping out of the walls and the cracks are growing bigger in the heat. I wouldn't wish this on anybody."

The Morrows and Chapmans' plights are only too common at this stage in recovery, said Jim Polier, the newly appointed director of Bradley County's Long Term Recovery Organization.

"Having been in a bureaucracy, I know how bureaucracies work," said Polier, who retired in 1995 from a 30-year career with the U.S. Forest Service.

"There are people caught between entities, struck on waiting lists. ... We've got to do everything we can to avoid delay, because there are people with their homes still strewn across a field."

That's why the recovery organization - an independent nonprofit - is beefing up its ranks and working to extend its reach in the county for a rebuilding process some estimate could take up to five years.

This week, the organization plans to hire a case manager who will oversee a crew of 25 volunteer caseworkers.

And starting today, the organization is starting an intensive round of community strategizing.

Over the next two weeks, a team with the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee will canvass the area assessing people's needs and creating a database for the Bradley organization.

This week, the Long Term Recovery Organization will host town hall sessions throughout the county so residents can voice their concerns and offer suggestions for rebuilding. The meetings will zero in on factors such as neighborhoods, health and human services and infrastructure.

Also at the sessions, representatives from the Bradley County Bar Association will field questions about insurance disputes and the legal aspects of the recovery process.

Morrow said the meetings will restore something many feel they have lost in the bureaucratic tangles: a voice

"With so many people needing help, it's easy to feel like you get lost in the shuffle," she said. "I think it'd be wonderful if people felt like they could be heard."

After the database and needs lists are mapped out, the organization will spearhead volunteer-led rebuilding efforts and will seek funding from grants and donors.

With more than 500 homes destroyed in the county, initial estimates for total repairs hover around $3 million. About 40 percent of the homeowners affected didn't have insurance.

Prioritizing needs amid such widespread devastation is a hefty, tension-filled task, Polier said. That's why the recovery organization has created an anonymous "stakeholders committee" that will review the data and order the list of needs.

FEMA recommends formation of recovery committees as vital after a disaster. Dade and Catoosa counties in North Georgia, also devastated in the April 27 storms, also have committees.

"Our FEMA teams told us, 'Wait, you already have a recovery committee? You're hiring a director? You're very much ahead of what we usually see,'" Polier said.

Though the group has received data-gathering tips from FEMA and advice from other disaster relief organizations, the structure and process of the Bradley recovery group is going to be highly specialized to the county and its resources, Polier said.

"This isn't going to be [the organization's] plan to rebuild," he said. "It's going to be the community's plan to rebuild."