Damage assessment teams from the Federal Emergency Management Agency toured flooded areas of three East Tennessee counties Friday to begin the process of determining if the area is eligible for federal disaster aid.
There is an $8.5 million threshold for the area to qualify for federal dollars to help residents rebuild what raging flood water swept away or destroyed Sunday night. Some local officials are not optimistic that will happen.
But there was enough damage documented by the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency to lead Gov. Bill Haslam to seek the federal assessment.
If that assessment reaches the threshold, the state will ask President Barack Obama for a disaster declaration, which will clear the way for residents to be reimbursed up to $30,000 for repairs.
“Right now what we’re doing is a preliminary disaster assessment, going door to door making sure everybody” is taken care of, said William C. Lindsay, media specialist for FEMA.
“People in Tennessee are pretty resilient and resourceful. A lot of them are taking it on themselves to do a lot of the cleaning up and all that but we want them to know there is assistance available,” he said, referring to the Red Cross and ongoing relief operations at Cherry Grove Baptist Church.
Red Cross workers have been delivering two meals a day all week to residents and relief workers. Other volunteers have been delivering water and more food throughout the day as well.
The hardest hit areas of Washington County had three to four inches of rain within a 24-hour period, according to the National Weather Service in Morristown. Residents along Dry Creek Road said the rain fell fast and there was a lot of it.
The downpour sent torrents of water down Buffalo Mountain into various creeks that feed into Dry Creek. The force of the water blew out the creek banks, which sent water into homes all through the Dry Creek area.
Brush Creek in Johnson City also overflowed its banks.
The result was extensive damage along large portions of those waterways. In Johnson City there was damage to businesses and homes in and around downtown and as far out as Austin Springs Road.
In the county, damage was reported along Sinking Creek Road, Dry Creek Road, Deacons Creek Road, Arnold Road, Rock House Road and other areas.
Homes were flooded with several feet of water and some mobile homes were pushed off their foundations and turned around so they faced a different direction. Some residents had minimal damage while others lost everything they owned.
Doug Wilson’s 1940s farmhouse — which is where he and 11 brothers and sisters were born and raised — was ripped from its foundation and pushed about 50 yards away. It came to rest with part of the house sitting in the road.
County road workers demolished the house on Wednesday and there’s nothing left but the concrete and rock foundation.
Further down the road, Bill and Wanalynn Chapman’s miniature horse farm suffered devastating damage, including the death of a dozen dwarf and miniature horses and several goats. The couple is still missing one donkey.
Several outbuildings were also destroyed, including Chapman’s shop, and their house had four feet of water inside.
Bill Chapman said FEMA assessors estimated his farm sustained $2.2 million in damage. An engineer told him Friday that the house should be torn down.
There has been an outpouring of support, the couple said.
“We can’t believe all the help we’ve got. It’s unbelievable,” Wanalynn Chapman said.
The couple’s surviving horses are being housed for free at WF Stables on Tommy Campbell Road.
“They took all our horses and said they could stay indefinitely,” Bill Chapman said.
Another location hard hit was Buffalo Mountain Camp, a summer camp and retreat center operated by the Holston Methodist Conference.
Damage assessments there are still unavailable, but it’s likely to be very costly to make all the repairs, according to Jason Onks, executive director at the camp.
In another effort toward community cohesiveness, Chapman said volunteers from two churches will be working at his farm today and plan to cook burgers and hotdogs and provide live gospel music.
“The churches are bringing it in and everybody in this valley is invited,” he said. “We’ll all have a good time and forget about this mess for a little while.”
Residents who need assistance of any kind can call the Holston Baptist Association at 929-1196. To report flood damage and to ensure FEMA includes your damage in the total assessment, call the Washington County Mayor’s Office at 753-1666. For assistance with lodging, clothing and essential medication replacement, call the American Red Cross at 378-8700.