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Tornado 2021 #DresdenStrong: Long-Term Recovery Group and Survivors Share Stories of Recovery

Alisha Melton, co-chair of the Weakley County Long Term Recovery Group, interviewed several survivors of the December 2021 tornado about the recovery process over the past two years. Following are their stories, which they share in hopes of lifting spirits and sustaining hope for the continued long-term recovery in Dresden. 

Paul and Sharon Ricketts were at home on Hyland Street when the tornado of December 2021 hit Dresden. “We were in the hallway,” Paul said. “Our sons and some neighbors came to check on us that night.” 

A few days after the tornado hit, Tommy and Karen Wilson coordinated tree removal from Ricketts’ yard. The Ricketts hired a private contractor in an attempt to repair their home but were unable to get any work completed over the next seven months. The couple expressed their frustration about the lack of progress and support from the city during this time. “It was distressing,” Sharon said, her voice filled with emotion. “Frozen pipes, no heat, bathroom unusable.” Then Paul and Sharon were contacted by James Simone, a case manager with the Tennessee Western Kentucky United Methodist Church (TWKUMC) Disaster Recovery Network, following a referral from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). “If it wasn’t for James and his organization (TWKUMC), we would have nothing,” Paul said. “Shannon Hayes and James – if it wasn’t for them, we’d have no hope.” Local contractor Shannon Hayes was willing to take on the construction work to build a new home for the couple, rotating crews to fit the project into his already loaded schedule. 

“We’re still waiting to see what we will need from the new house. I’ve made it to 78 years without asking for too much help. There should be people willing to help,” said Paul. 

Paul and Sharon expressed their gratitude for the monetary support received from the Dresden Church of Christ, the Greenfield Church of Christ, and Hatler’s Chapel Church of Christ. “The Macedonia Church of Christ, they brought heaters. Jamie Smith with Smith & Sons brought window unit air conditioners. We got mattresses and box springs from the Dresden Church of Christ.” Paul also had praise for Micah Seavers, owner of Seavers Beavers and Southern Reds BBQ. “Micheal Seavers, he brought propane to us and other people all winter long. He brought tons of propane.”

When asked what advice they would share with someone else, facing a situation like theirs, Paul and Sharon had the following words. “First of all, don’t worry. There will be people to help,” said Sharon. “And thank God you’re here,” added Paul. “Material things can be replaced. We’ve had people call, asking what can we do? What do you need? Larry Levister has been real good about that. Also Brent and Cynthia Melton, Mark Melton – he always said that there was money when we needed it.”

“I just feel so grateful, so blessed, even now.” -Deborah Simmons

A grandmother of five and a great grandmother of one, Deborah Simmons has lived in the home built by her husband since 1998. On the night of December 10th, 2021, she was alone when the tornado made its way through Dresden. “It was scary, loud. There was debris all in the yard and I had no idea where it was from. I don’t know where my stuff went. But I just feel so grateful, so blessed, even now.” 

The storm shifted Simmons’ house off its foundation, resulting in water damage and mold. She said her physical and mental health have deteriorated due to the stress of the living conditions. A contractor from Mississippi started work on the house, then disappeared. Then the Tennessee Western Kentucky United Methodist Church (TWKUMC) Disaster Recovery Network case management team worked with their contractor to attempt repair of the original home but were unsuccessful. Simmons is now counting down the days until her move into her new home which is on the same plot of land where she has lived for the past twenty-five years. 

Despite the struggles, Simmons remains positive. When asked about the people who have supported her through the recovery process, Simmons had a long list. “The recovery process has been amazing with the kindest people I’ve ever met. Volunteers cleaned my yard. There were four trees down and they took a tree off my shed. A church van full of teenagers arrived and the kids just flooded out. People are raising their children right, they’re very compassionate,” said Simmons. She described her daughter as her best friend who is always there to hold her hand. She described her Tennessee Western Kentucky United Methodist Church (TWKUMC) Disaster Recovery Network case manager, James Simone, as “so knowledgeable and kind, he goes above and beyond.” Simmons also expressed her gratitude for the assistance she received from the workers with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and Compass82.

Simmons stated how she knew long-term recovery was just that – long term. She said living as a disaster survivor requires patience with yourself and with the people helping you. Her advice to others starting their path on the road to recovery after a disaster would be to rely on prayer. “People will be supporting you, you’ll feel like you’ve got an army supporting you,” said Simmons. 

“No matter what, count your blessings. You’re not alone. Your friends and family will show up – people will come by and deliver. I can’t even remember everyone who helped.” -Marva Brock

When the tornado of December 10, 2021, hit Dresden, the Stephenson home was right in its path. The family was gathered in their home watching over a sleeping grandbaby.  Trees fell on both sides of the house. Rain poured through the gaps, resulting in extensive water damage. Marva Brock recalled how she had to move her sister to Van Ayer Manor in Martin that same night, but she expressed how thankful the family is to have avoided physical injuries. Brock’s brother and nephew now live in the home, which has been converted into two apartments. The house was built in the 1900s and its uniquely sized windows had to be specially ordered. “We’re just waiting on the windows to arrive so we can finish up,” said Brock.

Tennessee Western Kentucky United Methodist Church (TWKUMC) Disaster Recovery Network has worked with the Brock family to repair their home and replace appliances, heaters, and household items. Brock was moved by all the support offered to her family. Coworkers at the Union City candle distribution center offered money for cleanup. Bell Farms provided monetary support. Her niece worked at the Paris Wal-Mart and its management team donated a gift certificate. House in a Box provided a bed and bedframe. “The Dresden Elks Lodge was wonderful providing food. The First Baptist volunteers provided labor and food. The volunteer group cut up the trees,” said Brock. 

Brock was also effusive in her praise for local first responders and utility workers. “The police, gas, electric, phone – they were working around the clock. Everything was back on quickly and they would check and recheck. The local and state essential workers were very prepared.”

“Trust in the Lord to help and have patience. The Lord will pull you through everything. Rely on your family and friends.” These words represent the wisdom Anna Hammonds would share with a survivor just starting on their path to recovery. 

When the tornado of December 2021 hit Dresden, David and Anna Hammonds were living in the house that had belonged to David’s grandparents. In an instant, they lost the home they loved and wondered how they would recover. They have been working through the case management process with the Tennessee Western Kentucky United Methodist Church (TWKUMC) Disaster Recovery Network over the past two years with their assigned case manager, James Simone. “If it wasn’t for James getting in touch with us, we would not have our wonderful home,” said Anna. 

Since the tornado, David and Anna experience anxiety during every storm. Anna says they are particularly nervous about trees. They’ve moved three times over the past two years as they worked through the case management process. 

The love and support shown by their community has been overwhelming. “I had friends come to help pack up the belongings that survived the storm. They were so thoughtful,” said Anna. “My friend Renza Adams went to buy clothing for me at Southern Grace in Dresden, and DeDe Meeks wouldn’t let her pay. DeDe sent several bags of clothing.” Anna also described the support from her classmates in the Dresden High School class of 1975. “Joan Hodges hosted a party and there was a money tree. It was over $400 from my friends. Joy Adams was so good to check on me.” Anna also expressed a special appreciation for the contributions from Tommy Wilson, Mike Wilson, Paula Robertson, and Joann Wireman for their help from the very start of the Hammonds’ recovery process. 

David and Anna are grateful to all the organizations and people who have supported them during their recovery journey. “The Red Cross was so very helpful. Be the Village gave us items for our home. Dresden Rotary, Liberty Church of Christ, and the Greenfield Church of Christ all sent money. My sister’s friends in Nashville and my brother-in-law’s family – they all sent money. Just wonderful knowing so many people wanted to help.”

Anna also developed friendships with the volunteer groups who helped in her new home’s construction. “Mr. Bill was from the Pennsylvania volunteer group. He came on two trips. His group always invited us to eat. He gave me a footstool because I’m short and he knew I needed it. I still have the coasters and tumblers from them on my counter.” A group from Kentucky gifted a cross to Anna. 

Now David and Anna have returned to the same family land, but in a new home which they share with one of their daughters and four grandchildren. “This is the first time I’ve ever had a home this nice. It’s such a blessing to have a home like this one,” said Anna. She’s particularly partial to the walk-in closet in her bedroom and the kitchen pantry. “David Wagner (TWKUMC construction manager) and James Simone (TWKUMC case manager) have been super awesome to get everything done. Robert Craig (TWKUMC director) was so nice.” They look forward to many years enjoying their home with their five children and thirteen grandchildren. 

If you are a survivor with unmet needs or if you need to reopen a previously closed case, please contact the Disaster Recovery Connection at (615) 270-9255. The Tornado Recovery Center is now open by appointment only. Please visit www.rebuildweakley.com and https://www.facebook.com/WCLTRG for more information regarding disaster recovery in Weakley County.

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