Tennessee victims of the April tornadoes have until Tuesday to register with the Federal Emergency Management Agency for federal disaster assistance. To register, call 800-621-3362 between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m., TTY 800-462-6585, or online go to www.DisasterAssistance.gov. After Tuesday, storm victims can contact People Helping People Recover from Disasters by calling the Bledsoe County mayor's office at 423-447-6855 or EMA Director Paul Putnam at 423-280-3837.
Just over three months after two tornadoes, one an EF4, ripped across Walden's Ridge on the Bledsoe-Rhea county line, state and federal officials are teaming with local folks to keep help available for victims of disaster.
About 40 to 50 local residents in July underwent training provided by the federal and Tennessee emergency management agencies to form a disaster aid group called People Helping People Recover from Disasters, Bledsoe County Mayor Bobby Collier said Thursday.
Officials say the April 27 tornadoes damaged at least 200 homes and destroyed more than 25 homes and businesses in Bledsoe.
As the Tuesday deadline approaches for April storm victims to register for Federal Emergency Management Agency aid, Collier said the People Helping People group will be ready to pick up where FEMA leaves off in helping storm victims.
"We went through training with our people and, in a nutshell, it's to help people who have not got their registration in [before the deadline]," Collier said.
He said the group is made up of individuals and church and community leaders, and other civic groups have asked for training, too.
"It kind of helps the community when you have people that you know to help walk you through the process," he said.
In the future, People Helping People will provide initial assistance after other natural disasters, Collier said. If a disaster strikes again, the group will help victims until FEMA can set up response centers, he said.
That group will work with Bledsoe's Long Term Recovery Committee, established by the county to provide disaster needs assessments for continued recovery from the spring storms and in the future when disaster strikes, Collier said.
FEMA spokeswoman Annette Hall said the training taught participants to assist their neighbors in filing federal aid applications and how the aid process works.
The program is "empowering local citizens to help. We're tapping into the trust and credibility of the people living in the community," Hall said.
"It's a team of informed volunteers, and they work through the county emergency manager to assist people in their area," she said.
Bledsoe Emergency Management Director Paul Putnam said storm victims often think a rejection on a FEMA application is the end of the line.
"The biggest thing is getting a lot of people to understand that we can eventually get them help one way or another," Putnam said. "We'll either get it through FEMA or somewhere else."
Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...