Officials from United Way, Salvation Army, Red Cross, Bartow County EMA, Bartow County Fire Department, Habitat for Humanity, the Good Neighbor Homeless Shelter, the Good Shepherd Foundation and volunteer coordinators from local churches gathered for a lunch and discussion on how the community reacted to solving various issues from meeting short-term needs of victims to creating a plan for future disaster response.
To date, Bartow County Fire Chief Craig Millsap stated that more than 400 homes have some sort of structure damage and 49 have been completely destroyed. "We're not telling people to leave," he said, "but insurance companies are condemning homes."
The Federal Emergency Management Agency began preliminary assessments of the county's damage April 30, and, after partnering with local organizations, a Disaster Recovery Center was set up at the Clarence Brown Conference Center on May 6.
FEMA has been offering financial assistance to families who were not covered by insurance or have needs that insurance companies cannot meet. DRC hours of operation are currently from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m.
Although help is being offered to victims, one of the major problems that all organizations are faced with relates to freeloaders. "We've had people come through who were not part of the disaster," Capt. John Fuller with the Salvation Army stated. "We had a lady come to our office demanding food and clothing, saying I know you are taking donations and I am entitled to it."
At their office, the Salvation Army is offering food and clothing. However, at the DRC, the organization is handing out Walmart gift cards. "I know a lot of people have lost their medicine from the storm, so Walmart said the cards can be used for that at the pharmacy," Fuller said.
STARS Pre-K opened its doors to provide a collection drop-off site for clothing on May 2 only to be quickly overwhelmed and stopped accepting donations four days later. Grace Baptist Church, Graceland, Cedar Creek Baptist, Crowe Springs Baptist and other designated collection sites received the same community response. The gym at Grace was quickly filled with necessities such as toiletries, non-perishable foods and water, and lots and lots of water. However, as Ronnie Cowart of Crowe Springs pointed out, this is a good problem to have. "It's amazing to see the body of Christ come together to serve for the common good," he said.
Other community churches outside Grace and the three distribution locations were also heavily involved, and remain a strong presence beyond the immediate response time, offering help with the long-term recovery process. "Churches came together across denominational lines [to help]," said David Franklin, associational missionary for the Bartow Baptist Association.
Members of NorthPointe church in Adairsville worked with volunteers to collect and distribute supplies to families in need. "NorthPointe basically acted separately [from Grace and the three other locations]," Franklin said.
Crowe Springs Baptist was filled with supplies, soon turning to a trailer for storage space. Pine Log United Methodist also acted individually in collecting donations.
Now, as a second wave of needs is becoming apparent, and people are beginning to see that the process will be long, the churches are trying to contact each affected family and ask which specific needs remain to be met.
Cartersville Cares, though not a specific organization, was created by a group of concerned citizens in the wake of the storm. The group quickly started helping with donation collection and distribution, trying to reach as many people as possible while helping other organizations. Cartersville Cares is not connected to a particular church and says that they are "just God's people who want to make it easier for those who need help to get it, and those who want to help to have an opportunity to do so."
Habitat for Humanity President Robin Hooker stated that the organization currently does not have the financial resources to build homes for victims, but they are accepting applications. "Anyone with property or homes that are paid off can apply," said Hooker. "They have to go through our normal qualification process." Habitat cannot help anyone who owes a mortgage. However, items in their resale store can be made available to those in need.
The Good Neighbor Homeless Shelter, with an update from the fire marshal, expanded their capacity to 30, which equals to the amount of cots they have open to anyone in need of shelter. Although the space was available, no one sought shelter from the organization.
Georgia Power crews worked endlessly throughout the days and nights following the disaster. On Saturday, April 30, over 100 trucks were in the Crowe Springs area, working to restore electricity to homes. Contractors from other areas as well as Southern Company crews from south Georgia and North Carolina were brought to the area.
Although Cartersville Electric is a local company and could readily access the affected nearby communities, crews from the city were never called by Georgia Power for assistance. Instead, another city contracted electrical company --Chattanooga-- did request help from Cartersville.
David Meyers, director for Cartersville Electric, stated that "utilities that are investor-owned tend to use sister companies that are investor-owned when help is needed." Meyers explained that city companies differ from businesses like Georgia Power in the methods for pole hook-ups as well as pay rates. "We're willing to help Georgia Power when we can, and when we're asked," he said.
The city of Cartersville reached out to neighbors in need by providing city services to hard hit areas. The Public Works Department sent trucks to locations where debris removal aide was needed. Public Works remains on those scenes each day, continuing to help where possible. The Cartersville Fire Department also dispatched trucks immediately after the storm to assist the county with overwhelming calls. The Bartow Road Department has also been helping.
In an effort to help victims with the debris removal process, the Bartow County landfill is waiving the dump fee. An affadavit form is available for storm victims to match against the list of affected addresses to prevent others from taking advantage of the situation.
Commissioner Clarence Brown says that clean up costs are estimated at $1 million before everything is complete. "Do I hope I'm wrong?" he asked, "You bet. It's going to be expensive." As of now, the Bartow County Sheriff's Office has accrued $20,823 in overtime hours cost.
Addressing speculations on the way local leaders handled the situation, Brown confirmed a call to Red Cross was made by Fire Chief Craig Millsap as the storm was raging. However, the decision not to open a shelter was made by the EMA, Chief Millsap and Red Cross officials. Statements from all departments coincide in saying there was no high demand from the citizens of Bartow County for a shelter.
Red Cross procedures do not establish shelters without a formal request from the EMA, and no request was made. Although Millsap called Red Cross early after the storm, the organization did not arrive until Friday, April 29.
"[Shelter openings] depend on the number of people requesting shelter," Sarah Egan, Red Cross Emergency Services Director for the North West Georgia area said. "We had shelters in Floyd, Dade, Walker and Catoosa counties that were also open to Bartow residents."
Egan also stated that mobile feeding was not requested until Friday, so Red Cross then moved in to the area when the need became apparent. "We begin feeding after assessing the situation," she said. "We can't immediately be on scene as that can be dangerous for our workers and volunteers. We literally had a crew going toward Catoosa five minutes behind the tornado. We can't risk more loss of life."
Egan continued to say that when the damage was evident, everyone acted immediately. "The Bartow EMA requested that we work with the Salvation Army," she said. "We're very concerned about meeting the needs of residents."
One thing to keep in mind is the Red Cross is not among first responders. Instead, they work in conjunction with public safety officials. Now, Red Cross meals are being refused by Bartow victims and the organization's Emergency Response Vehicles are passing out snacks, bulk distribution items and clean up kits.
The Disaster Recovery Center established at the Clarence Brown Conference Center by FEMA and local organizations committed to helping victims will remain open to anyone seeking help until May 20. The hours have changed to Monday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday from 1 to 6 p.m.