Most Trenton apartments damaged in April tornado

TO HELPTo donate to the Dade Organizations Active in Disaster or to request help, call Joseph Chambers at 706-657-3233, ext. 364. Donations can also be sent to Dade Organizations Active in Disaster, P.O. 920, Trenton, Ga., 30752.

TRENTON, Ga. - The April 27 tornadoes that leveled dozens of homes in Trenton also took down about 70 percent of the town's low-income housing, leaving people with few options.

"These were people who were already living on the margins. They are just living where they can live," said Trenton United Methodist Pastor Reece Fauscett.

The tornadoes hit four of the town's five apartment complexes - which include many low-income units - and more than two months after the storm, many residents still are displaced.

"We were already short on housing ... so it has been an issue," Fauscett said.

They're living with family members or finding other temporary housing while they wait for their complexes to be repaired and rebuilt.

Others have moved to Chattanooga or Walker County, where there is more available housing.

"Most of the people are either staying with relatives or moved into extended stay places in Chattanooga," Dade County Executive Ted Rumley said Wednesday. "But I think a lot of them will be back. Dade County is a good place to live."

Sharon Spurgeon, who is living with her grandson in Alabama, is one resident who is impatiently waiting to return to Dade County. She lived in Mountain View Apartments for more than a year before the tornado hit the area.

"We are homesick," Spurgeon said, referring to herself and the other tenants. "It was home to us and we want to come back."

On Wednesday, Spurgeon stopped by the complex on Glenview Drive to see if any work had been done. It still stands vacant, with boarded-up windows and tattered roofing, grass growing long around the bushes in front of the brick walls. The 24 units will need to be gutted and rebuilt, Manager Lacy Hoover said.

She said she gets calls from residents almost every day, asking when they can move back home. The complex owners are waiting for completion of insurance paperwork to rebuild but hope to be back in business as soon as they can.

"We have the contractor hired and are ready to go. We definitely plan to reopen," Hoover said.

Village Green Apartments, which had about 25 units, was leveled and the owner does not plan to rebuild, Rumley said.

On the apartments' former site, a few small bits of shredded shingles and other debris are the only remnants remaining, and the property has been prepared for new grass seed. In the background, many homes are crowned with blue and white tarps among the mangled trees.

Edgewood Townhouses and Auburn Ridge Apartments also received extensive damage, but some of their apartments remain livable. Their managers did not respond to phone messages on Wednesday.

Recovery costs

Other recovery efforts are going as well as can be expected in the county, Rumley said.

A South Carolina contractor picking up debris for the county has covered most areas and is expected to finish in the next few weeks, Rumley said. The same contractor also will pick up debris on the state roads, which should be finished sometime in August, he said.

The big challenge for the county will be paying for storm costs, including overtime, debris removal and other costs, Rumley said.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency covers 75 percent of the cost and the state has promised to pick up 10 percent of the tab, he said. The county has already turned in all the paperwork to FEMA that shows county costs have hit about $2 million in the months since the storms.

The city of Trenton will cover 3 percent, leaving Dade County government with about 12 percent, which comes to about $350,000, Rumley said.

"We have to cover it. We will not raise taxes," Rumley said.

Sales tax revenues have remained about flat since the storm, he said, unlike Catoosa County, which saw a significant increase. Dade County does not have retail stores such as Lowe's or Home Depot that sell construction and home-repair items, he said.

Long-term recovery committee

Long-term needs in the region will be addressed by Dade Organizations Active in Disaster, formed about three weeks after the storms. So far, most of the effort has been focused on Dade, but the committee also hopes to work with Alabama residents in Jackson and DeKalb counties who live in the Sand Mountain area, Joseph Chambers, the group's chairman, said.

"These people shop in our stores and buy gas here. They are part of our community," Chambers said.

The committee, made up of 13 members of the Dade organization, is trying to identify anyone who does not have home insurance or received little or no assistance from FEMA, Chambers said. So far the group has found 67 cases in Dade County, with about $240,000 in unmet needs, he said.

The group needs skilled volunteers to help rebuild homes, any type of construction supplies and money donations, Chambers said. They will begin helping the elderly, single parents and families with small children first, he said.

"We hope to have the kids settled in before school starts in August so they can be in a good place," he said.