Chattanooga Times Free Press: Sen. Alexander tours destroyed homes in Apison

Posted on May 3, 2011

As the two men stood on the edge of the road, squinting into the sun to look at the rubbled remains of what once was a house, they realized their similarities.

Both born in 1940, they have a love of playing the piano and a passion for rebuilding their home state of Tennessee, ravaged by last week’s tornadoes.

“Well, when you get that piano back upright, you let me know and I’ll come play something for you,” U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., told Apison homeowner Arthur Bates.

Before he left Bates’ destroyed home, the senator gave him a scrap of paper with a phone number handwritten on it: 1-800-621-FEMA.

“Thank you so much,” Bates said as he shook both of Alexander’s hands in his own. “God bless you.”

The day after President Barack Obama declared Tennessee a disaster area, Alexander, a former Tennessee governor, flew to the area to survey damage and let storm victims know that federal aid is on the way.

Two Federal Emergency Management Agency centers will be set up this week, one in Apison and one in Lookout Valley, and those affected by the storms could be eligible for financial aid, Alexander said.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam announced Monday that the federal government has approved federal assistance for Hamilton, Bradley, Greene and Washington counties as a result of the devastating storm.

The senator encouraged people to call the toll-free number so federal workers could inspect damage and determine how much money victims will receive. Alexander said FEMA would provide up to $30,000 in individual assistance to cover housing, medical, dental and burial costs, as well as small-business loans.

“The single best thing I could say to those who are hurt is to call [FEMA],” Alexander said. “Nobody is going to be made whole by this, but it will be a help.”

FEMA also could make money available to Hamilton County to help rebuild roads,

“I’m saddened by the devastation, I’m impressed with the spirit of the people of Tennessee,” Alexander said, standing in front of an upside-down car covered by the remains of a home. “Ironically, this is the one-year anniversary of the flood in Nashville and Memphis. ... Tennesseans made a name for themselves by cleaning up and helping each other instead of looting and complaining.”

Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger said it could take a couple of days to get the FEMA centers organized, but encouraged storm victims to begin calling to get the process of recovery started. He also praised Alexander and Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., for their help.

“It is a quite devastated area and we’re grateful the federal government has declared this a disaster and that both of our representatives in the United States Senate have been very supportive,” he said, standing next to Alexander.

Locally, an emergency resource center has been moved from Apison Elementary to Apison Baptist Church. Portable showers and laundromats soon would be on site for victims, in addition to the food and shelter already available, said Amy Maxwell, spokeswoman for the county’s Emergency Medical Services. Nurses from the local health department also are still on site to give tetanus shots.

EPB officials reported that during the day Monday, crews restored power to an additional 3,000 homes and businesses. There are roughly 16,000 homes and business still without power, according to a company news release.

About 1,500 people, including EPB employees, contractors, retirees and hundreds of workers from out of town, are working around the clock to get power restored to all customers.

EPB estimated it will be Thursday before all customers in the service area have power.