Key Officials Think
The Worst Is Over
As Agencies Arrive,
Progress Is Made
BY KEN LITTLE
Those who lost property and possessions in Greene County's deadly April 27 tornado outbreak need to register with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and stop by the Disaster Recovery Center (DRC) at Camp Creek Elementary School to learn about the variety of assistance available to them, officials stressed Saturday.
That message was emphasized repeatedly Saturday during a public meeting in the Jackson-Tolle Learning Center at Free Will Baptist Ministries in Camp Creek.
The site buzzed with activity, as those affected by the storm met with representatives of FEMA and other aid organizations, while volunteers wishing to assist in relief efforts arrived by the carload to register so they could help.
Maybe it was the warm sunshine, or the realization that substantial help was now in place here, but there seemed to be a subtle shift in the mindset of many who lived through Greene County's worst natural disaster.
There was a sense that the worst is over.
"They're not victims now. They're survivors," said Bill Brown, Greene County Emergency Management Director.
AGENCIES NOW ON SCENE
FEMA representatives were joined at the Disaster Recovery Center at Camp Creek Elementary School by workers from the Appalachian Regional Coalition for the Homeless (ARCH), U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Development section.
The organizations will remain onsite for the foreseeable future to be available to those affected by the tornadoes and serious storms of April 27.
An array of food, clothing and other personal necessities were neatly arranged on tables in the Jackson-Tolle Learning Center gym.
Volunteers and storm survivors availed themselves of hot meals offered at the nearby Oaks Retreat.
Showers are available in a trailer in back of the Camp Creek Volunteer Fire Department, at 700 Greystone Road.
"Overall, we're getting a handle on this thing. It's becoming very organized now, and we're starting to get a lot of things done for the survivors," Brown said.
Tim Collins, manager of the FEMA help center in the Disaster Recovery Center, was encouraged by Saturday's turnout. About 45 individuals and families had registered to begin the aid process by noontime.
"This is our biggest day so far. So far, so good. It's going smooth," Collins said.
For FEMA-related questions or to register by telephone, call 1-800-621-3362. Online, go to http://www.FEMA.gov
One of those who attended Saturday's informational meeting was Billie Jean Bishop, whose Rambo Road home was damaged beyond repair in the EF2-scale tornado that ripped through the area.
"The response time has been slow by FEMA. We have been discouraged by that, but Bill Brown and his office have done a great job," Bishop said.
Bishop registered for FEMA aid, and a representative did an evaluation on her property.
"Right now, I'm staying anywhere I can stay," she said. "I'm waiting to hear from them if it's a total loss, or if we're going to get financial assistance."
Bishop's two-acre property includes a hay field, and she was told that assistance is available to clear debris. She also has water seeping into the basement from an unknown source.
She was told by FEMA it will take about 12 days to receive a response on her aid eligibility.
"FEMA are the ones that have been dragging their feet," she said.
Bishop is grateful for the assistance she and her family and neighbors have received from volunteers -- agencies such as the American Red Cross, and companies such as John Deere Power Products and Lowe's.
At the public meeting, property owners had questions about disposal of storm-related debris.
Brown said that it's OK for property-owners to burn lumber and wood debris, but he asked that other items such as carpeting, shingles, insulation, tar paper, tires and linoleum be separated in piles and not burned.
HELP WITH HOUSING
Also meeting with the public at the Disaster Recovery Center at Camp Creek Elementary School were representatives from other agencies, including the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA).
The SBA offers assistance with low-interest home disaster loans, business physical disaster loans, and economic injury disaster loans.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development office can help with housing and has identified local properties for people to live in temporarily.
"We have apartment complexes throughout the county that have numerous (vacancies) if you qualify," said Joe Woody, area director of the Greeneville USDA rural development office.
The Rural Housing Home Loan Program and the Rural Housing Home Repair Program offer grants and low-interest loans. Grant funds are only available to applicants age 62 or older.
Funds are "extremely limited," according to a USDA news release. For more information, call (423) 638-4771, ext. 128.
FARM LOANS AVAILABLE
Greg Brooks, farm loan manager of the Washington/Unicoi County Office of the Farm Service Agency, said emergency loans are available for Greene County farmers.
The farm loan program covers farm buildings, farmhouses, livestock and equipment, Brooks said.
Authority to offer the loans is possible because of President Barack Obama's declaration of a major disaster in Tennessee.
Greene County has been designated as a federal disaster area, along with several other counties. For more information, call (423) 753-2191, ext. 102.
Those with damaged property have eight months to apply for a loan.
FOR TEMPORARY HOUSING
ARCH (Appalachian Regional Coalition for the Homeless) is one of the organizations and agencies that is offering temporary housing to qualifying applicants.
Dreama Shreve, ARCH executive director, said Saturday the Johnson City-based organization has been able to assist 20 families with temporary housing.
For more information about ARCH services, call (423) 483-5684.
DEBRIS REMOVAL CONTINUES
Storm cleanup efforts continue this week. The Greene County Highway Department is making progress in removing debris piles in Camp Creek, Horse Creek and other areas.
Crews picked up 85 truckloads on Wednesday, 99 loads Thursday and 125 loads on Friday.
"We're making good progress We moved about 300 loads to the stockpile, and we are averaging about 100 loads a day," Greene County Road Superintendent David Weems said.
Companies such as John Deere that have made equipment available to the Highway Department are making the cleanup job easier, Weems said.
"We appreciate them," he stated.
As new volunteer workers arrived Saturday at the Greene County Emergency Management's command center by Camp Creek School, volunteer coordinator Doug Jennings and his team processed work orders and sent volunteer crews into the field.
Volunteers are helping to remove debris from storm-affected properties, cutting up lumber with chainsaws, and clearing hay fields littered with refuse.
"I'm estimating there have been 250 volunteers through here just this morning," Jennings said Saturday.
Over the past week, at least 1,500 people have offered their services to help people affected by the storm.
Jennings said about 85 properties have been cleaned up or cleared by volunteers dispatched through emergency management.
"It's been a lot of individual groups and a lot of individuals that have come here. There's been a lot of church groups and other organizations," he said.
"It's just been one great outpouring of people just showing how much they care for this area."
HOW TO VOLUNTEER
For information about volunteer opportunities, call the Greene County Emergency Management office at 798-1729 or 798-1824.
Brown said anyone with storm-related questions or concerns should also call one of the numbers.
'BAND PERRY' PITCHES IN
Nationally prominent country music recording group The Band Perry has strong Greeneville ties, and is also personally supporting the relief effort.
The Band Perry will be at the Free Will Baptist Family Ministries at 2 p.m. today to meet with those affected by the storm, as well as volunteers.
"Their whole goal is to bring national awareness to our disaster," said Dr. James Kilgore, CEO/president of Free Will Baptist Family Ministries.
The Band Perry will hold a news conference and has expressed a desire to meet with first responders, Kilgore said.
Kilgore has observed first-hand how much progress has been made in the relief effort since April 27.
"Here it is a little over a week into it, and I think you're startsing to see some results," he said.
Seven Greene County residents died as a result of the tornadoes and severe storms that accompanied it, and about 100 people were injured.
Several remain hospitalized, including Vera Sue Harrison, wife of tornado victim Gene Harrison, who was among those killed.
She was listed in stable condition today at Johnson City Medical Center.
The Greene County Health Department will be at Free Will Baptist Family Ministries from 1 to 3 p.m. today to give free tetanus shots to storm survivors.
The Disaster Recovery Center will be open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Sunday. Meals will continue to be served at The Oaks from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. at least through this week, officials said.
Help will be available as long as it is needed, Brown said.
Said Jennings: "We're just a bunch of volunteer folks. We have no paid staff," he said.
"It's not what you put into it. It's the love that you spread all over."
Kilgore said a Greene County Disaster Relief Fund is being set up and will be used to assist storm survivors with a number of needs.