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Storm impact: Washington County considers new disaster agency

August 12th, 2012 8:41 am by Becky Campbell

Storm impact: Washington County considers new disaster agency

A new organization could be in place soon to help Washington County residents recover from a flood last week that devastated much of the Dry Creek community, but also wreaked widespread havoc on numerous homes across the area.

“We need an entity that can serve all of Washington County in the event of a disaster at any point. Again, its purpose would be to aid in the recovery effort,” Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge said on Friday.

“Right now I think we’re in really good shape. The needs are being met. The next step, of course, will be the recovery. And that’s what we’re really focused on getting our game plan together for right now. That recovery effort is going to begin in earnest within, probably, the next four weeks,” he said.

“Between now and then we want to do a few things. Number one, we want to create the organization that is going to coordinate that recovery effort.

“Number two, we are going to need to raise a lot of funds to buy materials for the recovery effort, and number three we’re going to line up a lot of volunteer labor for the recovery effort.”

Since the Aug. 5 storm that caused several creeks to overflow their banks, including Brush Creek in Johnson City, Ramsey Creek at Buffalo Mountain Camp and Dry Creek, Eldridge has helped coordinate relief and recovery efforts. Part of that coordination includes looking to agencies like Southern Baptist Disaster Relief for assistance.

These efforts come just barely a year after several tornadoes hit Washington County and destroyed hundreds of homes in South Central and Fall Branch.

“What I would like to do — and not that I’m assuming we’re ever going to have another disaster, but I think realistically we have to assume that we will — what I want is an entity that will be permanent,” Eldridge said.

The organization would be nonprofit and might be dormant until something happens that causes its reactivation, “but it’s something that can be reactivated on a moment’s notice,” he said.

“And I would like for that to be a permanent fixture in Washington County. I think we need it. We were so fortunate during the tornadoes that we had the South Central Ruritan step up and create the co-op. we had the Fall Branch Volunteer Fire Department create the co-op. We don’t need to go through that process of recreating the wheel every time this happens.”

This coming entity will be based on how Greene County created AIDNET to help residents there after those same tornadoes last year.

“I was very pleased to hear how they did it in Greene County with AIDNET. I had heard some good things about what happened through that process and I think that is the template for us. It was created strictly to aid in the recovery effort.”

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is still in the damage assessment process and federal money could become available, but Eldridge said he won’t wait.

“One thing I told FEMA was we so appreciate you being here, we hope you see the need that we see and we can have some federal assistance for these individuals who have lost everything,” he said.

“But we’re going to deal with this with or without FEMA. We’re going to take care of these people. It would just be a whole lot easier if we had FEMA to help. That’s our attitude. That’s what I want our attitude to be. We’re going to take care of this, regardless. And that’s why it’s so important we get this recovery organization up and running.”

The FEMA assessments could take several weeks before the decision is made that the area qualifies for aid. If that happens, residents would then apply with FEMA for the aid and each household could receive up to $30,000 in assistance.

But Eldridge stressed the importance of a local agency to be available to step up to help.

“We want it to be a permanent fixture in Washington County that is available to help us recover from any future events. Obviously we’re going to be engaging the help of faith-based organizations, civic organizations (and) concerned citizens of the community. We want it to be the type of entity that anyone can participate in and help with the process of recovery.

“This is going to happen. It’s not going to be created and up and running today,” but it will happen soon, he said.

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