BY SABRINA BATES
DRESDEN (April 25) – As the Weakley County Long-Term Recovery Group rolls out its plans to offer assistance to storm victims, local officials are reminding residents to visit the Recovery Center, located at 8250 Hwy. 22, Dresden, to determine the remaining unmet needs.
According to Joyce Washington, the Center’s director, there is a list of approximately 600 people that was curated for the Center. The group of volunteers have weeded out duplicates and they have determined there are about 86 people with additional needs.
Weakley County Mayor Jake Bynum said they expect that list to grow. As he explained, some people are handling their own recovery, but there are still people who are waiting on insurance companies or FEMA determination letters. Once a person is denied for FEMA assistance, there is also an appeals process for individuals to submit their information again. People have 60 days to appeal a denial from FEMA.
Representatives with FEMA and SBA (Small Business Association) were on hand at the Recovery Center for several weeks taking applications and processing claims for storm victims. Once those resources are exhausted for a victim and there remain unmet needs, those individuals need to request assistance through the Recovery Center.
Tommy and Karen Wilson have also been available to offer assistance to storm victims. Initially, the Wilsons worked as part of the Tennessee Baptist Relief Association, as they have responded to areas in the country that were impacted by severe weather. Now, the couple just volunteer their time and services to help with the local effort. The group coordinates volunteers to assist victims with things such as tree removal, roof repairs and minor construction projects. Volunteers are available to assist in heavy lifting, clearing of debris and moving it to the roadside, at no charge to the victims. Items such as fence repairs and landscaping do not fall under the umbrella of free, volunteer-led services.
“There are people who have probably never been to the Recovery Center as they thought they could handle their own recovery. Maybe you felt you would be ok. There are some who will find an increase in construction costs or materials and they might end up a little short on repairs. Come to the Recovery Center to get that help,” Bynum said.
Washington, who retired from Allstate Insurance as a Claims Disaster Specialist, said she has seen a lot of storms over the years. She said it is not unusual to see tarps on roofs for a while after this type of disaster. Her concern is for those who have leaks as a result, to get them some help with repairs.
“People see broken windows and tarps on roofs and think ‘no work is being done,’ but that is not the case. Supplies are limited and the supply chain has slowed down. I had 36 windows in my house. Thirty-two of them are damaged. I’m told it will take six months just to get windows. The latest projection is four months, which is better,” Dresden Mayor Jeff Washburn said.
From a community standpoint, a rental complex with 20 units on the corner of Cedar and Main streets, saw 19 of those units damaged. Bynum said their goal is to put people back into Dresden. It may be a year before the rental complex is rebuilt. Bynum said they are not aware of anyone who is now homeless as a result of the storm, even if their home was destroyed, they have worked to ensure victims have been housed, even if temporarily.
Washburn said people will likely be surprised by the efforts of several organizations that raised money since the storm for victims. He noted his church, Bible Union Baptist, raised nearly $7,000 after the storm. Money was used to help provide housing for victims in the form of securing hotel rooms or paying a deposit and first month’s rent for families to relocate. Washburn said those organizations that offered assistance on the front end, before Red Cross even arrived in town, are to be commended and they are appreciative of all they have done to provide immediate needs’ assistance.
Bynum emphasized that high priority is to house people adequately and safely. As the county’s Long-Term Recovery looks at all of the remaining cases, funding would be distributed on an equitable basis.
“Equitable is different that equal,” Bynum said. While the Dresden Rotary Club has nearly $500,000 in donations, if that money were to be equally divided among the 86 who remain with unmet needs, that would mean a check for nearly $5,500 each. As Bynum explained, there may be a family who doesn’t need that much money and a family who needs much more. Someone may have a need for 10 sheets of plywood to make repairs. That supply could be furnished and it won’t cost the family anything. From bedding to some building supplies to “houses-in-a-box,” these services will likely come at no charge for families in need. Washburn said the city is still seeking approximately 10,000 square feet of storage space for the “houses-in-a-box,” which would help fully furnish homes that are repaired or rebuilt.
Some victims have had property demolished at no cost; a service that can range in the thousands of dollars for property owners.
Stump removal and removing precarious limbs from trees are not a part of the volunteer services available, but Washburn said there are people who offer stump grinding throughout the county that don’t charge much for the service. Often, community members can call the Weakley County Municipal Electric System for assistance with limb removal.
In explaining the structure of the county’s Long-Term Recovery Group, every organization that received financial donations will retain their funds and a representative of each group will have a place on the Allocation Committee. There are more organizations that raised money other than the Dresden Rotary Club. Collectively, Washburn said there is an anticipated $700,000 in financial donations. Bynum and Washburn will sit on the allocations committee as ex-officio members, meaning they do not have a say in who gets funding. The Long-Term Recovery Group issued a press release Tuesday for operations and information for victims. See separate article in today’s issue of The Enterprise.
Case workers are in training and will walk alongside the victims requesting funds to help the victims determine what their unmet needs are. The allocation committee will consider those cases on a blind basis.
Washburn stressed if people need help with getting their claims met through their insurance companies, to contact the state’s Commissioner of Insurance, which carries a lot of powerful help for insured victims.
The Dresden mayor also addressed the pile of debris that accumulated under the city’s water tower. According to the mayor, during the winter months, the city needed a place that was accessible with a solid surface to take the debris, until the process for FEMA and the monitoring contractor can be approved. The monitoring contractor will follow the trucks around to give a best guesstimate on the amount of debris removed from the city. Dresden was approved for reimbursement of debris removal, which includes the cost of hauling debris to an approved landfill, by FEMA. The City’s portion is 5 percent of the cost. FEMA Corps of Engineer estimated approximately 220,000 cubic yards of debris based on existing piles of debris and the houses that will likely be demolished. Washburn said the city wants to maximize the funds it can potentially receive from FEMA. Once debris pickup begins, it is expected to be a process of two or three swipes around town to get all of it removed. Those who need help with demolition and hauling their debris to the roadside for pick-up need to visit the Recovery Center. The City has until August 14, 2022, to get the debris to the landfill for reimbursement. He stressed the pile of debris under the water tower will be the first to be hauled away.
Dresden’s municipal complex, which housed city hall, the fire department and police department, were leveled in the December tornado. The City is looking to construct one complex, housing each of the departments and equipment, along with a safe room for residents. As Washburn explained, there must be adequate space and storage for patrol cars, fire engines ranging in value of $1 million, along with personal protective gear. Currently, the police department is operating out of one office the size of a closet at the McWherter Civic Center. City hall is utilizing office space at the Civic Center as well and privacy is limited in the joint space. Washburn said the goal is build a complex for the citizens of Dresden that will be in place at least 75 years from now. The City is also looking at mitigation funds for placing tornado sirens throughout town.
Another aspect the trio wants to help victims with is the mental health aspect of being a survivor. The group hosted a town hall in February centered around mental health services available to community members, which also included breakout sessions. As more people who have been through this process realize the impacts to their mental health, Washington said they want to consider hosting another session for the community to address those needs. The state is disbursing funds to mental health providers, such as West Tennessee Healthcare, Carey Counseling and others, to provide services at no cost to survivors. More information about the funding and specific services will be released when it becomes available.
“If you ask not, you have not. If we don’t know what your needs are, we can’t help you,” Washington stressed as Washburn and Bynum noted they want to help everyone who needs help.
“Everybody in this community has a responsibility as well as the community owns its recovery. We know people are on social media. We know people read the newspaper, watch television and listens to the radio. If you know someone who still needs help, tell them to come to the Recovery Center,” Bynum shared, as Washington added people know someone who was impacted by the storm.
Washburn noted the county-city partnership has been an excellent process to work with. He commended the work of Joyce, Jake, and Karen and Tommy Wilson along with WCMES, first responders and those who stepped up from the very beginning in local incident command to offer help.
The group noted for those who need soft items, such as clothing, dishes, food, etc., they can reach out to Be the Village and Santa’s Helpers, both of Dresden, as well as WE CARE Ministries in Martin.
Washington and the Wilsons are on hand to offer assistance at the Recovery Center Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. The Center now offers telephone services. Call 731-699-7913 for additional information. When no one is available at the Center, leave a message and the voicemails transfer to Joyce and Karen’s email and they will respond.