Posted on June 7, 2011
By Kristen Buckles
The gentle curves of the nearby mountains, so prominent in southern Greene County, could not distract from the evidence that still remains of April's devastating storms as Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., toured Camp Creek and Horse Creek on Wednesday.
"Growing up in East Tennessee, we were told that one of the advantages of the mountains is that you don't have tornadoes," Alexander said during a speech to the Greene County Republican Women's Club prior to the tour.
"That turns out not to be true."
Many in the area have heard that very assurance throughout their lives.
However, when the mountains failed to provide the promised protection on the night of April 27 and early morning of April 28, lives were lost and extensive amounts of property were destroyed.
More than a month later, many homes are only just beginning to see repairs, while numerous others are gone entirely.
"I'm always shocked when I see the damage that a tornado can do," Alexander said during a stop to visit the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) post at Camp Creek Elementary School.
"It's always shocking to see the terror of a tornado like this. It's a great thing to see the resilience of Tennesseans and the courage that people are showing," Alexander said.
WITH LOCAL OFFICIALS
Tennessee's senior senator traveled with County Mayor Alan Broyles and representatives from FEMA and the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA), as well as Bill Brown, director of Greene County Emergency Management and Homeland Security.
The driving tour began about 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday at the Valero gas station at the intersection of the 107 Cutoff and Jones Bridge Road.
The route then followed Camp Creek Road for about a mile past the elementary school before turning back to visit the FEMA headquarters.
WOMEN SEEKIING HELP
After arriving at the FEMA location, Alexander encountered two women who were seeking assistance following the tornadoes.
Pamela Ward, her three daughters and her husband, Kevin, were thankful to survive, but experienced the loss of their home, which had been located on Dunham Road, in the Horse Creek community.
Pamela Ward and her mother-in-law, Betty Ward, came to the FEMA post after having encountered several problems with their insurance because of a mandatory payoff on the mortgage.
"The house was obliterated," Betty Ward said, adding that their FEMA application was going slowly because of problems with the insurance. "They're just absolutely worried to death," Betty Ward said of her son and daughter-in-law.
"Our insurance just ran out, so we're on our own now," Pamela Ward said, explaining to Alexander that her family is living in a motel and, as of Tuesday night, having to pay the nightly fee out of their own pocket.
Both Bill Brown and W. Montique "Q" Winfield, the federal coordinating officer following disasters in Tennessee, stepped forward to offer suggestions and assistance to the Wards.
Alexander questioned each about the next steps they would be taking to aid the family before assuring the Wards that FEMA has been "pretty good" about responding quickly.
"I wanted to personally express my support of the families that are dealing with this. I've been very impressed with the response," Alexander said in a followup address to the media.
"It's important to say that what the federal government can do toward individual assistance for housing and other help and what it does for counties will not make anybody whole.
"It's a help to get back on your feet and to get a start."
SPEAKS WITH VOLUNTEERS
Alexander spoke with numerous workers and volunteers at the FEMA headquarters, taking the opportunity to put faces to the names and numbers. He also gathered information about the application process and common difficulties that storm victims are encountering.
A number of complications can slow the process, said Dalia Cohen, a FEMA worker, explaining that over-the-phone applications are especially difficult.
"That's why real people in the field are so important," Cohen said.
Alexander said that he was pleased with the work the teams had accomplished and impressed by the teamwork and neighborly outreach involved.
PLEASANT HILL UMW STOP
After traveling through Camp Creek and Horse Creek along roads that go through heavily damaged areas, including Rambo Road and Dunham Road, Alexander stopped at Pleasant Hill United Methodist Church to see more of how neighbors are helping neighbors.
Several churches have joined efforts in this central location to provide clothes, food and medical supplies to storm victims.
The motorcade also paused, without the senator or others getting out of the vehicles, at some of the more devastated areas, including a mobile home in Camp Creek that was missing two-thirds of its front wall and roof, exposing the inside portions.
The tour of Greene County sites concluded about 3:30 p.m., at which time the senator traveled on to see the tornado damage in Washington County.
"I want to make sure that whatever the federal government can do, it is doing," Alexander said.
"FEMA seems to be doing an excellent job. There are obviously people who still need help, and that help is available," he said.