By Hunter George, FEMA Region IV External Affairs DR-4060-TN
For the second time in a year, McMinn County in central Tennessee responded to a tornado disaster. For the second time, the whole community was part of the response.
The two storms occurred less than five miles from each other, and both received federal disaster declarations, the first for April 27, 2011, storms and the second for a March 2 storm. The community response did not wane with the second disaster. Volunteers lined up once again and business owners donated their time and manpower to recovery efforts.
Mayor John M. Gentry and State Rep. John Forgety help with cleanup after tornado in McMinn County, Tennessee. photo courtesy of McMinn County Mayor's Office
“For the second time in less than a year, McMinn County faced the adversity of a natural disaster and witnessed the character of its people shine,” said John M. Gentry, McMinn County Mayor. “It has always been evident to me that this county is a special place filled with caring citizens who share a unique bond. The incredible response to this latest disaster proves once again that McMinn County is truly the Volunteer County of the Volunteer State.”
Terry L. Quarles, federal coordinating officer for FEMA-4060-DR-TN, said McMinn County was a good example of local, state, federal, corporate, nonprofit and faith-based organizations playing vital parts in disaster response.
“This is the way it's supposed to work,” said Quarles. “An effective disaster response requires the whole community.”
“All emergency workers did an incredible job with the initial response to the storm,” said Mark Cochran, assistant to the mayor. “Many workers were off duty but voluntarily came back in to help those in need. Roads in the affected area became impassable for ambulances. As a result, sheriff's deputies quickly adapted to the situation and used their patrol vehicles as makeshift ambulances to transport victims.
“Etowah Utilities expended nearly $110,000 in resources and manpower to ensure power was restored quickly. The McMinn County Highway Department worked tirelessly to clear roads. Roads were passable in less than two hours after the tornado struck, and virtually all power had been restored within two days.
“Once the emergency response phase had ended, the Etowah Rescue Squad immediately volunteered their facility to be used as headquarters for the recovery efforts. Volunteers flooded in. Faith-based organizations, school groups, churches, elected officials and individual citizens poured into the Etowah Rescue Squad to volunteer for storm recovery efforts. An overwhelming amount of food, water and supplies was donated by individuals as well as businesses. Multiple companies provided mobile dumpsters for storm victims to dispose of their debris. These companies then hauled and dumped debris at no charge. McMinn County waived all landfill fees for waste related to storm damage.”
Churches, businesses and nonprofits continue to help those affected by the storms. The most recent show of support was a benefit concert hosted by Savannah Oaks Winery in Polk County.
County EMA Director Betty Hamby said that 222 volunteers provided 1,364 hours of service after the storm.
“The FEMA Community Relations Team was in the communities affected by the tornado, going door-to-door to make sure people had the information necessary to apply for and receive the resources they qualified for,” Hamby said. “The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency was here from the beginning, providing us with resources. The American Red Cross arrived the day after the event and began damage assessments. They also provided kits for cleanup throughout the affected area. The Salvation Army is also providing food and other support for storm victims.”
The response, by governmental and nongovernmental agencies and individuals, included 911 dispatchers, Etowah Rescue Squad, Etowah City Fire Department, AMR Ambulance Service, Etowah Rural Fire Department, McMinn County Sheriff's Department, McMinn County Highway Department, McMinn County Emergency Management, Etowah Utilities District, Camp Living Stones Christian Camp, numerous churches, McMinn Central Interact Club, Miracle Lake Christian Ministry, Amish communities and multiple scrap metal, construction and waste removal companies, according to the mayor's office.