Taking the toll
By JAMIE PAGE
The Jackson Sun
May 7 2003
On the second day after an F-4 tornado ripped through the county, the aftermath looked only slightly better. But a ray of hope comes from the business and home owners already beginning pick up the pieces.
Damage from Sunday's tornado can be seen in this aerial photo. Aeneas Internet and Telephone building was flattened during the storm. JANELLE SOU/The Jackson Sun
Bredesen and his crew came to see 175 buildings damaged. They heard about the 11 fatalities. They saw that much of the debris has been pushed to the edges of the streets, and some downed trees and power poles have been cut up and moved to the side. It's made many of the main streets more passable, but it does little for the scarred souls of Madison County, where 11 people have lost their lives.
A large crowd of media followed Bredesen through downtown, along with U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, Congressman John Tanner, State Sen. Don McLeary, State Reps. Jimmy Eldridge and Johnny Shaw and several city and county officials. They immediately recognized the drastic difference in the widespread devastation of the storm than that of the tornadoes that hit Jackson in 1999.
"This is a disaster," Alexander said at an afternoon press conference at the Jackson Police Department, the podium backdropped by boarded windows and piles of debris at the police station. "I can't imagine there not being a disaster declaration. The question is what is the extent of the damages."
Bredesen will likely declare a disaster area based on the assessments of Tennessee Emergency Management Agency and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. His recommendation will be sent to President Bush, who will determine the amount of aid that will be sent to the area.
TEMA and FEMA began assessing the damage Tuesday morning and are expected to make their recommendation to the Governor within the next few days, said Kurt Pickering, public information officer for TEMA. He said there might also be flooding damages added to the request if the weather continues as it has been. There are no estimates by either of the two agencies at this time.
Bredesen talked with residents in the streets amongst the rubble, giving words of encouragement to those cleaning up. He stopped by the oldest church in the county, St. Luke's Episcopal Church, where members were back cleaning up the site again on Tuesday.
At the JPD press conference, Bredesen said he knew how important it is to continue following the needs of a community that has suffered a disaster.
"I had the pleasure of being mayor of Nashville, which was hit by a tornado during that time (in 1999), and we got a lot of help during the first week, but then all the reporters and cameras just gradually went somewhere else," Bredesen said. "So we will do everything we can to help."
Mayor Charles Farmer assured that "this community will overcome. We saw people doing for themselves today, demonstrating their courage as usual," he said at the conference.
Sally Harlan was standing near the remains of her son Jonathan's destroyed business, Aeneas Internet and Telephone, when Bredesen's pool came through. She immediately gave him a long hug, and began crying. She told him about Aeneas and how extensive renovations had just been done in the last four years to the business. And now this.
"We are in great need of any kind of state and federal funding," she said. Bredesen hugged her and assured her that assisting Madison County is a top priority.
"It's just an erasure of my whole childhood and life," said Sally Harlan, who has lived in Jackson most of her life. She has also been a lifelong church member of St. Luke's, she said, starting to cry again.
County Mayor Jerry Gist said the outlying county, the areas outside the city limits, suffered about $5.1 million in residential damages alone. That doesn't include debris cleanup and other costs. There is no city damage estimate, Farmer said, but it includes $3 million at the Justice Center, Sheriff David Woolfork said. The largest the damage was on the third floor with some damage to the jail.
Farmer said the federal courthouse downtown suffered about $6 million in damages. The assessment continues. About 85 residents were evacuated from New Southern Hotel, which had numerous windows blown out during the storm. Those residents have been relocated at relatives' homes, nursing homes and other facilities.
Bredesen stopped in the street to ask Nick Pappis and his family how his property was. Pappis, the pastor of Christ the King Church, didn't suffer any damages and is now helping other churches. Pappis said his church will be available for worship to the Mother Liberty CME Church, St. Luke's and any other churches that have suffered damages as soon as they get power.
During the tornado, several police officers took shelter in Christ the King Church where they began praying, Pappis said. "And we are just thankful to the Lord that we were spared," Pappis told Bredesen.
Bredesen's tour ended at the Mother Liberty CME Church, where only the facade still stands. His group talked with bishops of the church, who also hope for federal assistance in rebuilding the church.
Bishop Marshall Gilmore of Dallas is the senior bishop and CEO of the CME church. He told Bredesen about the historical significance of the church, which is more than 130 years old. "And they were very encouraging to us," Gilmore said afterwards.
Gist emphasized at both press conferences "we are a tenacious people and we will bounce back from this. We've done it before, and we'll do it again."
A number of city and county officials, like City Councilmen Johnny Dodd and James E. Wolfe have been delivering water and food to residents who are picking up storm debris. Wolfe, over his dress shirt and tie, came dressed in overalls and work boots.
Dodd, who represents City Council District 2, including much of East Jackson, has had little sleep since Sunday night. East Jackson was pounded by the storm, leaving many homes and businesses destroyed and trees and power lines laying across the streets. Dodd even has a tree lying on top of his house. But since it happened he's been helping neighbors move debris from their homes.
"I hate it for the people in my district," he said. "So many of them were elderly, or renting or on fixed income, and now they're starting all over."
Farmer knows his city has taken a hard hit.
"It's hard to describe my reaction to seeing the devastation ... it's comparable to a knockout punch," Farmer said. "It's always worse than you thought it would be. Pictures in the paper and on TV never really do it justice."
- Jamie Page, (731) 425-9643
What to know