Three months after tornado, life goes forward
by Jessica Loeding
Jul 27, 2011 | 4063 views | 0 0 comments | 24 24 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Jeremy Huskins, working for Eagle Metal Roofing and Construction, works at the construction site where his cousin’s home is being rebuilt on Gaines Road.
SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News
view slideshow (9 images)
Standing in the shade of a porch on Gaines Road, the sound of construction equipment and heavy machinery fills the air on a sweltering July afternoon. Just three weeks ago, there was no house on the small rise, and three months ago, the home that stood in its place was ripped from its foundation and tossed into the trees like bits of confetti.

The story is the same for residents along Crowe Springs, Gaines, Spring Place and Richards roads, many of whom lost their homes when a tornado tore through the community April 27.

Relatives worked Tuesday at the Gaines Road site overseeing the construction of two new houses belonging to family members. A father sprayed water onto the foundation of his daughter's future home to keep the concrete from drying too quickly in the brutal Georgia sun. Cousins sorted lumber for the home's frame.

The father eyes the horizon warily, nothing remains on the land bulldozed of debris felled in the storm system that swept across the South April 27-28, killing more than 300. He recalls pine trees as far as the eye could see. Now it's scrub brush, a tangled mess of downed trees along the roadway littered with the remnants of his daughter's old house. A couch cushion here, a sweatshirt there, plumbing pipes jagged where they were ripped from the walls.

Bartow County Road Department worked Tuesday in front of the Gaines Road residences repairing a culvert, patching broken roadway and replacing rusted pipes. Three months after the twister and the work continues.

The lucky ones

On the morning of April 28, Gary Howren awoke to find massive trees uprooted, felled or twisted off and dropped. The trees were scattered along both sides of his Law Road home, which overlooked outbuildings leveled in the tornado.

Tuesday, Howren and a crew were working to replace fencing, fresh pine boards a stark contrast against older, aging fencing.

"We've got it all cleaned up finally, out of the pastures where [the tornado] went through there," Howren said of the debris. "Of course, we are building the fences back.

"Really, our home was spared, which was remarkable. I don't see how it missed it -- it was on both sides of us."

He said Tuesday that insurance estimates for a shop and barn were $112,000 in damages. That total is expected to rise to more than $150,000 once equipment and so forth are factored into the loss.

Bartow County Administrator Steve Bradley said Tuesday the tax assessor's office estimated $7 million in damages to structures. That total does not include personal belongings, vehicles, landscaping, equipment and so on.

Bradley said he was confident that number could easily double if everything lost in the storm was included.

A total of 400 homes were affected by the storm, with 100 sustaining significant structural damage and 52 being deemed a total loss. Seven hundred people were served through the Federal Emergency Management Agency Disaster Recovery Center. Perhaps the most significant number was zero -- no one was killed locally in one of the deadliest string of tornadoes the nation has seen.

Howren, who offered thanks to the Lord that no one was hurt, expects the rebuilding and recovering process to take a while.

"Our buildings are coming in, I think, Aug. 12," he said. "The rest of it is just going to be slow go."

Nothing was spared

Much like Howren, the congregation at Crowe Springs Baptist Church sees a slow rebuilding process ahead.

While a crew places trim along the interior of the temporary sanctuary -- it was once the fellowship hall -- deacon Gene Powell surveys the empty lot where the almost 150-year-old church once stood. He said the church had encountered red tape in their plans to rebuild.

"We don't actually know just yet where we can start our lower corner" because the church is located in a flood plain, he said. "It's kind of depressing when you come around here now."

Powell said the church held services the first Sunday in the parking lot, then moved to a tent the next Sunday. Since then, the gathering has met in the converted fellowship hall, which has seen about $11,000 in repairs and changes. While the church drew more than 100 worshippers in the first Sundays after the tornado ripped the roof off the old structure, the congregation is once again at a normal level between 45 and 60 people.

For the church elder, some good came from the storm.

"The first Sunday we had service down here after the storm, we had people here we'd been trying to get to come here for years that were here," Powell said. "It caused people to realize the power God has, and also it caused people to see that, even though we are a church, we are not exempt from natural disasters."

Serving as a community center in the weeks after April 27, the church served meals to residents and emergency personnel.

"We actually tried to support the community from here," Powell said. "Right after the storm we set this up as a temporary community center; this is where we served all the meals to the community from here. There were some days we served over 600 meals. That's other churches bringing stuff in, the Red Cross -- of course, part of the time they were here, the emergency management teams, GEMA teams."

Community support might be the one bright spot for Cedar Creek Road resident Patricia Brown.

Currently residing in a travel trailer, Brown said the process of rebuilding has been nothing short of terrible.

"This [living in a travel trailer] looks fun -- it's not fun," she said. "It has been aggravating waiting on the insurance company to finally give us a total loss. It's disheartening to look at that [her home] every day."

Brown's roof sits on the lawn, blocking the front door. Her insurance company informed her just Monday that the home was a total loss.

"We definitely have been displaced," she said, adding that the news this week should speed the process of recovering along.

Brown, who took cover in a bathtub, said the "war zone" is slowly disappearing as new growth covers the downed trees and residents begin to make repairs.

Despite the harrowing experience, Brown recalls the community in the days that followed with a smile. "Everybody was wonderful. They went above and beyond the call of duty; they were great."

The unknown cost

While an outpouring from area churches, businesses and organizations overwhelmed donation centers, Bartow County spent more than $600,000, mostly for cleanup. That figure also includes overtime for law enforcement and emergency personnel as well as road crews. Bartow County Sheriff's Office Capt. Lee Fletcher said Tuesday that his department provided deputies in the mostly heavily hit areas 24 hours a day for at least three weeks following the tornado in an effort to keep out looters and thieves.

Bradley said the county has applied for more than $600,000 in assistance. The county has been approved for $424,896.27, of which the county can expect 85 percent. Bradley said Bartow would be responsible for the remaining 15 percent.

"The rest is still being reviewed and has not been approved," he said.

Almost $15 million in federal assistance was approved for individuals and business owners, as well as local, county and state governments in 25 Georgia counties that were declared a major disaster area April 29. FEMA received more than 300 applications for assistance and provided almost $350,000 in aid to local victims through the first part of July.

According to FEMA:

* The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has approved $4,593,061 in total housing and personal needs.

* Of that amount, $3,338,861 has been approved for Individuals and Households Program (IHP) expenses, including temporary rental assistance, home repair costs and assistance toward replacing destroyed homes.

* FEMA approved $1,254,200 in Other Needs Assistance to cover essential disaster-related needs, such as medical and dental expenses, funeral expenses, and personal property.

* The U.S. Small Business Administration approved $5,819,700 in loans to homeowners, renters or business owners.

* There were 5,478 applicants who registered with FEMA for some form of disaster assistance.

* There were 4,808 visits made to the Disaster Recovery Centers operated jointly by FEMA and the state of Georgia.

* A total of 3,058 home inspections were completed to assess disaster damage.

"There's no way, I think, we'll ever know the true cost," said Bradley, who estimated the total damages could be as much as $20 million.

Costs aside, for those touched by the April 27 tornado, life moves on but things have changed. As Powell said, "It'll never be [the same]."