BY DAVID FISHER
DRESDEN (January 10) — During Monday night’s meeting of the Dresden City Board, Mayor Jeff Washburn gave an update regarding the status of the recovery effort.
The mayor said, “It’s been a busy 30 days since the tornado hit Dresden. Things aren’t as active as they were on December 11th and for a few days afterward. The number of volunteers has decreased, but things are still progressing. There are still citizens in our community that are participating in the clean up using track-hoes, rakes, chainsaws and things like that, to move debris to the road where it can be picked up.
The mayor gave a status report concerning of FEMA saying, “They’re still working on the application. On Friday of last week they requested additional information from the city of Dresden in regard to the public building and things that were damaged or destroyed. That information is being worked on and must be turned in by Friday of this week.
“We’re one of nine counties involved in the Tennessee Disaster Declaration Application, which was sent to Washington about five days ago by Governor Bill Lee, who signed off on it. They’re going through our application at FEMA at the present time, and hopefully by this time next week, we’ll have an answer as to whether or not the president is going to sign off on the disaster declaration.
“We feel that there is enough damage and things that we need assistance with, that they will help rebuild, not only in Dresden, but Samberg and Kenton and many other locations across Tennessee that were affected by tornadoes on December 10th and 11th, and it will warrant a disaster declaration for those nine counties. We’re hoping to hear about it sometime this week or next week.”
According to the mayor, the vast majority of businesses damaged or destroyed by the tornado are going to be rebuilt. “I have also heard about three new businesses that may be coming to our community in the days ahead, so that is good, as well.
The mayor reported many of those that lost their homes, had to relocate outside of Dresden, because of the lack of rental housing available. “Hopefully we are going to see those homes rebuilt,” Mayor Washburn said. He mentioned that Alderman Gwen Anderson, who is an optometrist, is going to remodel his office located on Locust Street, rather than relocate.
“It was sad to see the United Methodist Church demolished, and next in line is going to be the Presbyterian Church. But the good news is they have intentions to rebuild, as well. We’re happy about that,” Washburn said.
“Our Public Works Department has been busy with clean up. We are looking at a long-term recovery program. The United Methodist Church has such a program that might be of some value to us. They have a well-planned and thought-out disaster recovery program, and they’re offering to come and assist the City of Dresden. It would not involve decisions about rezoning or redevelopment. Those decisions will be left up to the Dresden Board. Those are things we may want to take a serious look at in a few months. I want to see our city redeveloped and to determine how we can be a part of that.
The mayor stated United Methodist Church is willing to help coordinate volunteers in the cleanup, and to help rebuild homes. He said the Baptist Association will continue to be a part of that and those organizations may merge. “They would not only look at helping people repair and get back in the homes, but they would also be looking at social issues regarding people that may need assistance with money and other things.
“Weakley County Mayor Jake Bynum and I had the opportunity on Friday to talk with the city attorney in Mayfield, Kentucky,” Mayor Washburn said. “We asked questions about what’s going to happen when FEMA gets here. It’s going to be sort of a mixed blessing for those in city government. FEMA is going to bring money for folks and take applications for assistance, just like the Red Cross did at the Recovery Center. They are also going to be providing funds for the cleanup of our city. That’s going to be a major undertaking. There are three ways we can go about the cleanup. According to the city of Mayfield’s attorney, we could do one of three things.”
- Allow the Corps of Engineers to take on the task of cleaning up our city. Although I hear they may be a little slow in mobilizing, they have the expertise to get the job done. Additionally, we are not responsible for any of the bill from the Corps of Engineers, since it is a federal agency.
- Hire a large company that specializes in clean up following tornadoes and other natural disasters. They would be very quick in mobilizing, but we may have to cover the cost of that until we are reimbursed by FEMA.
- Contract with local people to do the cleanup. I think this would be the preferable way to do it, but the question is, ‘do they have the resources to complete the job, and the expertise to complete the paperwork FEMA it’s going to require?
“We will know more about it when FEMA gets here.”
According to Mayor Washburn FEMA will pay the deductible on property owners’ insurance to help cover the cost of cleanup as well as for those that are uninsured.
“FEMA is also going to help the city rebuild its infrastructure, including our fire department, city hall and police department. The question is, how much money will they make available for rebuilding the city’s infrastructure?
“Everybody is going to have to spend their insurance money first, before FEMA applies any dollars to assist them.
“Another thing that’s probably going to transpire is that WK&T will fly County Mayor Jake Bynum and I, along with officials from Kenton and other areas impacted by the storm, on a daytrip. We will visit Joplin, Missouri, and a city in Kansas, which recovered after being hard-hit by tornadoes. We will speak with officials there to learn what their expenses were, and to receive guidance on how we can do better in our recovery effort.” The mayor said upon his return, he will share this information which the board.
Mayor Washburn informed the board that several property owners have offered to donate their land to the city, providing the city will cover the tornado cleanup costs.
“I’m confident we’re going to get a disaster declaration and we’re going to get Dresden cleaned up. But, if we don’t, it’s going to be a tough row-to-hoe for Dresden to bear the expense of cleanup.” He noted Mayfield estimated it will cost $17 million to clean up their city, and it will probably cost the City of Dresden $5 to $6 million for the cleanup. The mayor explained the job will encompass removing debris within 500 feet the nearest street.
Mayor Washburn commented TDOT, the Weakley County Highway Department, Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief, the Weakley County Disaster Relief, and assorted religious groups, have assisted in the recovery effort. Also, college groups are talking about coming during their spring break to help out.
“I can’t even begin to count the number of donations that have come in. We need donations of toiletries, baby supplies, and non-perishable food products, which can be dropped off at the Donation Center in the old FedEx building, located at 1064 Evergreen St. He added, the Recovery Center is housed inside the Professional Development Center (Adult Learning Center), located at 8250 Hwy. 22.
The Recovery Center is still accepting applications for assistance. The American Red Cross assisted 111 families with funds. There are also other groups assisting with food and money to stay in the hotel, until housing becomes available. FEMA will do likewise, when they arrive. If we contract with United Methodist Committee On Relief (UMCOR), they will host fundraising activities and have money available to help people in our community, until they can get back on their feet.
Alderman Ralph Cobb asked, “How much money has been donated and given away to help people?”
Mayor Washburn stated he doesn’t know, but Red Cross was giving away $100 to $1,500 to those in need. Additionally, there were groups that came in early on, that gave away gas cards and gift cards to help people. There is also food at the donation center people can pick up and prepare. As an example, the mayor said Bible Union Church donated $3,000, and most of that was passed out to people in need. He noted there were also ministers from area churches that went around checking on people and providing ministerial services in the affected areas.