ATLANTA, Ga. -- A year ago this week, West Tennessee was pummeled for a week from Jackson to Clarksdale as high winds and tornadoes spun from dark skies between Jan. 17 - 22, causing a major disaster.
The storms triggered yet another response by state and federal emergency management officials to the wrath of nature, which this time resulted in allocation of more than $35 million in federal funds. Twelve counties in storm- and tornado-ravaged West Tennessee were initially designated eligible for federal assistance by the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) under President Clinton's major disaster declaration issued for the state January 19.
The federal aid was ordered immediately after reviewing the agency's analysis of the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency's expedited request for federal disaster relief submitted earlier in the day. The declaration covered damage from severe storms, tornadoes and high winds that struck Jackson starting Sunday, January 17.
The swift response helped ensure that assistance would soon follow for everyone in need as fast and efficiently as possible. Following the Presidential declaration, FEMA Director James Lee Witt designated the counties of Carroll, Crockett, Decatur, Dickson, Hardeman, Haywood, Henderson, Lauderdale, Madison, Maury, Montgomery and Perry eligible for federal funding to supplement the recovery needs of affected residents and business owners. Subsequent damage surveys made 11 other counties eligible for various types of disaster aid as the week of storms culminated when Clarksdale was struck by tornadoes on January 22.
In the end, 2,115 residents of the stricken areas registered with FEMA for assistance, with 455 persons receiving disaster housing help costing $403,000 and 388 applicants receiving $1.5 million in grant assistance. More than $10 million in federal funds was provided to help pay for the removal of debris and repair storm damage to public buildings, roads or bridges.
The storm did, however, present an opportunity for civil engineers to emphasize the importance of considering construction technology embodied in the Safe Room concept- a place to go in the face of nature's most ill winds. The addition of a Safe Room is estimated to cost about $4,000. It is considerably less expensive when adding the storm-tested room during new construction.