ATLANTA, Ga. -- Killer tornadoes raked Tennessee and more than 50 counties in six southeastern states this time last year, leaving a grim wake of twisted destruction, more than 100 deaths, hundreds of injuries and total losses exceeding $179 million in federal and state disaster dollars.
Within a tumultuous 60-day period, President Clinton responded to requests from Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina and Tennessee for help in recovering from one of nature's most violent spring rampages. Not since 1936, when tornadoes killed more than 400 in Georgia and Mississippi in a terrifying 24-hour span, had so much tornado destruction been recorded.
In Tennessee, seven persons died in the April 16 storm, one in Davidson County, three in Wayne, two in Dyer and one in Bradley. In all, 130 were injured by the storms that hammered 15 counties, including Bradley, Crockett, Davidson, Dickson, Giles, Hardin, Lawrence, Macon, Maury, Morgan, Pickett, Robertson and Wilson. Damage was listed in the millions of dollars.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) provided nearly $27 million in direct assistance to Tennessee individuals and families, low-interest loans to homeowners, renters and businesses, and money to replace or repair damage to public facilities such as roads, bridges, and municipal utilities.
John D. White, director of the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA), said that the long term recovery process continues. "Our primary goal is taking action to save lives and protect property, for example by improving the state's warning systems and communication network. This is being achieved through a partnership between TEMA and FEMA."
John B. Copenhaver, director of FEMA's eight-state southeastern region, said greater public awareness about changing weather patterns and new loss prevention techniques emerged from the rubble of destruction.
"We can't emphasize enough that when tornadoes or other severe windstorms occur, people need to have a safe place to go with enough time to get there," Copenhaver said. He stressed the concept of FEMA's "safe shelter" program whereby one room in a structure, typically a centrally located bathroom or closet, is shored up to withstand damaging winds.
"While there isn't much that engineers can do to protect property from a direct hit by a twister with winds that approach speeds of 300 mph," he said, "that type storm is very rare, and we're now aware of new ways to minimize the impact of lesser but still powerful storm strikes."
Copenhaver emphasized a new FEMA initiative known as Project Impact, which is designed to help provide storm resistant safe-havens. Its goal is to reduce the costly, repetitive loss cycle that follows some natural disasters. "Project Impact is based on a public-private sector partnership committed to making entire communities storm resistant," Copenhaver added. "We know it works."