Trash collection isn't flashy, but it was a big part of long-term recovery in Tennessee.
By Susan Kim*
October 16, 2012—Twenty-two inches of rain in half a day. Forty-three counties with flood damage. More than 44,000 Federal Emergency Management Agency registrants. The floods that hit Tennessee in May 2010 were “an epic event,” said Bill Carr, disaster response coordinator for the Memphis conference.
More than two years later, the worst of the damage has been repaired, though some flood survivors have yet to move back into their homes. “Physically, we're in pretty good shape,” said Carr.
It's the less visible damage that worries him. “On the mental side of things, we're still seeing a major impact.”
Over the long term, Carr has noticed that the psychological toll on farmers has been particularly burdensome, he said. “A lot of farmers lost good fertile ground that got covered up with sand. They had to find a new way to make a living, maybe turning the land into grazing ground for livestock. They had to make a new normal.”
Sadly, some flood survivors never had the chance for a new normal. “I know at least some people who took their own lives in the wake of this,” he said.
Carr's colleague, Jason Brock, has also been looking back on the past two years, during which Brock estimates that UMCOR helped some 3,000 people on the road to their recovery. Working through 14 different local long-term recovery committees, UMCOR offered case management with its signature holistic approach that addresses housing needs as well as emotional and spiritual care.
Last week, for the first time, the number of cases left finally hit the single digits.
“We still have open cases in three counties,” said Brock. “We hope, by the end of this month, most of those families will have moved back into their homes. And, by the end of the year, we hope all of them are back.”
Long-term recovery receives little media coverage because the sensational part of the disaster is over, leaving the less flashy, yet vital, work ahead.
“Looking back, besides case management, the thing that comes off the top of my head are the not-so-flashy things that people don't always jump up to offer. We have provided more dumpsters, storage containers, and port-a-johns than I can count!”
Tennessee—for better or worse—is experienced when it comes to disasters. Christy Smith, an UMCOR consultant, has offered 10 different case management training workshops in the state. “In Tennessee—both unfortunately and fortunately—we have the opportunity to have repeat shakedowns,” she said.
Help disaster survivors long after their plight has left the headlines. Please contribute to US Disaster Response, UMCOR Advance #901670.
*Susan Kim is a journalist and a regular contributor to www.umcor.org.