Speeches & Floor Statements

Floor Remarks of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) -- Tennessee Tornadoes

Posted on June 7, 2011

Mr. President, on Wednesday I traveled to Greene and Washington Counties in Upper East Tennessee--up near Virginia and North Carolina--to visit with the victims of tornadoes that swept across our State on April 27 and to see firsthand how the recovery is going.

What I found was what I expected to find. In Washington County and Greene County, the citizens are not complaining. They are cleaning up, and they are helping each other. I also found out there are some things that still need to be ironed out, but so far the recovery from a devastating disaster is going well in East Tennessee. The real work is being done by people affected by those storms and by volunteers, and I think it says that Tennesseans are doing what Tennesseans usually do.

I first met with Alan Broyles, who is the mayor of Greene County, and Bill Brown, who is director of Greene County's Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency. Seven people lost their lives in Greene County. We visited the Camp Creek and the Horse Creek communities. We saw many of the homes that have been completely leveled, and debris was still being removed. We saw one home where a couple--the Harrisons had been helping neighbors into their basement when the tornadoes swept through and killed both Mr. and Mrs. Harrison, but spared the lives of the neighbors in the basement. There were two crosses there next to what was left of the basement structure of the home.

At the Camp Creek Elementary School where FEMA has set up a disaster recovery center, I met Pamela Ward and her mother-in-law, Betty Ward. Mrs. Ward's home had been completely destroyed by the tornado, and her husband Kevin and their three daughters were staying in a hotel after discovering that the insurance on their home only paid off their mortgage. Mr. Brown and Q. Winfield, who is FEMA's Federal Coordinating Officer for Tennessee, immediately began working to help the Wards. By the next day, Mr. Winfield had called to let me know that FEMA had approved the maximum award to help Pamela Ward and her family get back on their feet.

I also visited Washington County, where I met with Dan Eldridge, who is the mayor of the county, as well as local emergency management officials and families affected by the disaster. One resident was killed in a tornado that touched down in Washington County. Hundreds of homes were damaged. However, it was clear that families and volunteers had been hard at work putting their community back together. Rebuilding had begun, and the debris had already been removed in many areas.

FEMA is doing an excellent job working with State and local officials, but the generosity of the volunteers and the entire community working in a collective way with the churches to help families get back on their feet is an amazing sight. It is still very important for victims to register with FEMA by calling 1-800-321-FEMA (3362). Families are also eligible for other forms of disaster assistance, including loans from the Small Business Administration and unemployment and food stamp benefits. While we cannot make these families whole, there are people who still need help, and we have to make sure they know help is available. I want to make sure that whatever the Federal Government is able to do, it is doing.

Over the past year, Tennessee has experienced disasters of historic proportions. We know very well we are not the only State or the only community where this has happened. Beginning with the 1,000-year flood that struck middle and west Tennessee last May, to the devastating tornado outbreak and river flooding this year in both the eastern and western parts of our State, 74 of Tennessee's 95 counties are currently Presidentially declared disaster areas. Thousands of people are still recovering, and many are only just beginning to put their lives back together. In spite of everything this past year has thrown at us, Tennesseans are going about their business helping themselves and helping others in remarkable and inspiring ways.