BY DAVID FISHER
WEAKLEY COUNTY (December 27) — The citizens of Weakley County, particularly those in the Dresden and Sharon area, are still sorting through the debris left in the wake of an EF3 tornado that reduced many of their homes to rubble and scattered personal belongings and keepsakes far and wide.
Local leaders are working diligently to secure federal disaster assistance to help families impacted by the powerful December 10 storm that left a path of destruction as it traveled across the county and other parts of the state.
“Initially, we thought we had around 100 homes and a dozen businesses that were affected by the storm countywide,” said Weakley County Emergency Management Director Ray Wiggington. “However, that number has been updated now that FEMA has come in and done their damage assessment. They said there were 187 houses and 21 businesses that were affected. That’s almost twice what we initially thought following our first assessment. The reason it went up so high is because we’ve had more time to look and see the hidden damage and some of the minor damage that we couldn’t initially see.”
“What they’re working on now is getting numbers of how many of those structures had minor damage, major damage, or were a complete loss, as well as getting a dollar amount of what that’s actually going to cost.”
Wiggington stated there were no deaths, but approximately 30 injuries caused by the tornado. “The most serious was a 14-year-old boy that was paralyzed. However the teen is beginning to have some movement in his legs,” Wiggington said. “We haven’t had anything more serious. Nobody has died after the fact.”
He stated Weakley County has already been approved to receive public assistance (PA) for government entities and agencies.
According to Wiggington, it would be impossible to know what the timeline will be for completing the assessment, but noted “everyone is working on it.” He estimated the federal government will provide approximately $6.1 million in reimbursement funding for public assistance.” That number hasn’t changed much in the past week, but it’s likely to change within the next week or two, as we find more damage.”
Regarding obtaining federal assistance for home and business owners, Wiggington said, “We haven’t made any more headway on that. FEMA is still working on it. If we get a disaster declaration from the federal government, that’s going to open the door for individual assistance (IA).”
He stated, only lived-in structures and businesses are potentially eligible for individual assistance funding. Vehicles and other property damage are not covered.
“FEMA has sent four inspectors down to help us, so far, and the Small Business Association has been down here too. It’s all working towards the disaster declaration. We’re waiting on that.”
Wiggington explained, “The way the declaration works is, we would do a damage assessment, which comes up with a dollar amount for our county. We would have to meet a county threshold of monetary damages. Once we meet that threshold, that number goes to our regional TEMA office in Jackson. TEMA collects the information from all of the counties in the Western Region and sends that off to Nashville. Once the state gets these figures and consolidates them, the state has to meet a threshold amounting to approximately $11.5 million. If the state reaches its threshold, it goes to the federal government, which should then declare it a federal disaster.”
“If individual assistance is approved, the funds may be authorized to pay the deductible on insurance claims, or provide low interest loans. If there is something not covered by the insurance that FEMA thinks should have been covered, they may cover that too.
“It’s all going to be done on an individual basis. Each individual is going to have a FEMA caseworker that will decide what type of assistance they’re eligible for.
“However, IA is not a substitute for insurance,” Wiggington said. “You can’t even go through the IA process, until you’ve already gone through your insurance company.”
When asked about status of phone service in Weakley County, Wiggington said he does not know much about the subject, except that a temporary Verizon tower has been erected at the Palmersville Fire Department, and is providing some cellphone service to the area.