Transition in Tennessee—Maybe
By Linda Unger*
June 7, 2010—For those who can afford it, June will be a month of transition from cleanup to rebuilding after historic floods in Tennessee damaged or destroyed homes and businesses last month. For those who can’t afford the costs of recovery, though, the wait goes on.
It has been just over a month since torrential storms dumped 15 inches or more of rain in two days over great swaths of middle and western Tennessee. Creeks and rivers overflowed their banks and produced record-breaking floods.
In the town of Antioch, about 12 miles southeast of Nashville, the local interfaith relief and recovery effort has been aided over the past month by hundreds of volunteers.
Antioch United Methodist Church Pastor Jay Voorhees coordinates the volunteers. “Our assessment showed there were 350 homes damaged by initial flooding in our area,” he reported. “To date, we’ve completed 160 projects.”
Each project is a home that requires that relief workers and volunteers remove everything that got wet in the flooding—furniture, carpet, drywall, even flooring. “You have to remove the mud and basically gut the home. Clean it all out,” explained Voorhees.
After that’s done, relief workers and volunteers sanitize the homes with two chemical washes to kill germs carried by the floodwaters and impede the growth of mold. Each application requires a waiting period while the chemicals dry. Then rebuilding can begin—if resources are available.
“The homes of affluent people were also touched by the disaster. But our area is made up mainly of working class people who don’t have the resources to rebuild,” Voorhees said. “This means that we as church have a special responsibility because our folks will need more help and resources.”
In Antioch, the most vulnerable populations are those living in modest homes or apartments in low-lying areas. “Low-income housing here tends to be focused in areas where land is cheap. So these areas are the first hit in a disaster like this. There’s a lot of trauma, a lot of rescues by boat,” said Voorhees.
Many of the people in these areas are new immigrants, who face the additional challenges of language and culture as they seek to deal with the disaster. “In our end of town there’s a lot of diversity,” Voorhees said. “We have the largest Kurdish population outside of Kurdistan.”
Almost no one affected by the floods—whether rich or poor—had flood insurance. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will help, but FEMA will cover only up to $29,900 in damages—and there are caveats to that coverage.
“For instance, FEMA won’t pay for the repair of a flooded basement or recreation room unless it was a living space; it won’t pay for the repair of empty bedrooms; and it won’t pay anything for the repair of a second home,” said Christy Smith, UMCOR disaster response consultant.
“If we do our job right,” Smith added, “if we search hard enough, we’ll find the funds for the recovery.”
As she considered the significance of funds contributed to UMCOR for Tennessee flood relief and recovery, Smith’s eyes welled up. “I see their faces,” she said, referring to those affected by the floods who from the start have been beyond the eye of the national news media.
“West of Nashville, all the way to the Mississippi River—that’s 150 miles—the people live isolated, devastated, and proud. The money people donate will help us get to them and serve them,” she said. These are people, she added, who are “seriously off the beaten path.”
This week, Smith initiated case management training for volunteers in the Tennessee Annual Conference, which includes Antioch. Sessions will be held in the Memphis conference as well. Case management is a ministry by which volunteers follow individual cases of disaster survivors to ensure they receive the resources and care they require.
At the first session, Smith reported, more than twice the number of volunteers showed up for the training than had been anticipated. They are, she added, “an all-volunteer cadre of compassionate men and women who truly want to partner with suffering neighbors to see them through to a ‘new normal.’”
UMCOR also will provide spiritual and emotional care training for clergy and lay leaders who are called upon in this capacity. Smith says there is a “roller coaster of emotions after a flood,” and that the need for this care will be ongoing.
Your gift to US Disaster Response, UMCOR Advance #901670, will help the people of Tennessee rebuild their homes and their lives. Please give generously.
You can help, too, by supplying cleaning buckets. UMCOR already has sent more than 12,000 cleaning buckets from its Sager Brown depot in Baldwin, Louisiana, to the Tennessee and Memphis annual conferences, but more buckets are needed. Learn how you can provide these now.
*Linda Unger is UMCOR’ staff writer.