Nashville, TN -- You can't keep the Volunteer State down for long, not even after record storms. Counties throughout Tennessee are beginning slow and painful recovery from three waves of devastating storms in May that killed 17; destroyed or damaged thousands of homes, businesses, and public buildings; left hundreds homeless; and left 200,000 without power for two days. Gov. Bredesen requested a Presidential Disaster Declaration, which was issued on May 8 for 20 counties and enlarged to include 46 counties on May 15.
Disaster declaration cleared the way for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and Small Business Administration (SBA) to join with volunteer agencies that were already on the scene. As soon as the storms passed, a phalanx of volunteers descended on the stricken communities to provide food, shelter, and other immediate needs of victims. Early responders included the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army, Church World Services, Christian Reformed World Relief Committee, Jackson Area Ministerial Association, Samaritan's Purse, Southern Baptist Relief Agencies, the United Methodist Committee on Relief, Lutheran Disaster Response, Presbyterian Disaster Relief, the Church of Christ disaster relief, and Adventist Community Services.
Volunteers set up food canteens and mobile kitchens, provided basic needs such as showers, distributed "clean-up" kits, and gave vouchers to meet emergency needs. Not least, they provided counseling and spiritual care for folks who had lost everything, especially families who suffered a fatality. Most of these groups work together as members of the Tennessee Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters (VOAD), which in turn works closely with state and federal agencies to coordinate relief efforts.
FEMA and SBA involvement brought additional assistance; these federal agencies work closely with the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA) and other state agencies. By May 17, only seven days after the disaster declaration, more than $4 million in aid had been approved for housing and essential needs. More than 700 families in the initial 20 counties were approved for aid. Victims can receive rental payments for temporary housing, and grants to repair their homes and replace essential household items not covered by insurance. They can also receive loans and grants to replace personal property and help meet medical, dental, transportation, and other needs not covered by insurance or other programs. Those who have suffered deaths in their families can even receive help with funeral expenses. Those who lost income as a result of the storms but don't qualify for state unemployment benefits may qualify for disaster unemployment benefits under the Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act. Business that have suffered disaster-related cash flow problems, and need funds for working capital to recover, can apply for low-interest loans through SBA. The SBA also makes loans homeowners and renters for damages not covered by insurance. Farmers, ranchers, and aquaculture operators may also qualify for loans to cover production and property losses through the USDA Farm Service Agency. FEMA is working with the State of Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities to make crisis counseling and mental health services available. Other possible help includes income tax assistance for filing casualty losses, legal advice, and advice on social security and veterans benefits.
In addition to help for individual families, local governments in several counties have been approved for public assistance, which includes repair of damaged public facilities, debris removal, emergency operations, and measures to prevent or reduce long-term risk to life and property. Special attention is being given to historic structures.