Relief effort for Bledsoe County's New Harmony community

Relief effort for Bledsoe County's New Harmony community

May 3rd, 2011 by Ben Benton in News

A modular home along state Highway 30 in Rhea County was destroyed as what authorities believe were two tornados passed through the New Harmony community on the Bledsoe/Rhea county line. Staff Photo by Ben Benton/Chattanooga Times Free Press

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Sequatchie Valley residents are teaming up to provide Bledsoe County's New Harmony community with food, water, personal items and used furniture for families who are making do with what the tornado left behind.

Four residents of the community on the Bledsoe-Rhea county line died and hundreds of homes were damaged when Wednesday's EF4 tornado smashed into the mountaintop agricultural community, authorities said.

"We've got in excess of 200 residences affected," Bledsoe County Mayor Bobby Collier said Monday. "We know there have been at least 28 homes destroyed. When I say destroyed, I mean from the foundation up, it's gone or flattened."

The tornado "heavily damaged" an additional 20 or more homes, Collier said.

"That means there might be a hole in the roof big enough to drop a car through," he said. "In my opinion, those are destroyed, too."

The twister ripped through New Harmony just before 9 p.m. CDT Wednesday, according to Regional Volunteer Fire Department Capt. Justin Jackson and Incident Commander Jamey Roberson. Officials said 22 people had been treated for storm-related injuries through Friday.

Federal aid is pending, Collier said.

Costly damage

The damage in Bledsoe far exceeds the $40,000 threshold for a claim for federal disaster assistance, but he's awaiting word on federal help, he said. He estimated losses at two of the community's agricultural businesses at more than $3 million, which he says is just a fraction of the total loss he expects when the numbers are complete.

Relief efforts have been gearing up since the storms struck, volunteers and officials said.

"We're a collection point and acting as a shelter for Red Cross and acting as a distribution point, too," said Nancy Butler, administrative assistant at First Southern Baptist Church in Pikeville, location of the Red Cross emergency shelter.

Butler said about 15 people still are sheltered at the church, which was opened to victims the night of the deadly storms.

Senior pastor Jim Whitaker said relief is arranged so that needed items can be provided when people need them, without burdening them with items they can't yet use or store.

"The [Southern Baptist] Ministerial Association is going to provide 500-plus boxes of cleaning supplies" for homeowners with storm damage, Whitaker said.

Donations sought

He asked that people donate large quantities of the same item so volunteers can package a variety of supplies in one box for each storm victim household. Whitaker said donors can call the church first at 423-447-2849 to see what items are needed most.

Contact staff writer Ben Benton at 423-757-6569 or bbenton@timesfreepress.com.