published Friday, May 27th, 2011

Whirlwind after the storm

Rebuilding Hope Ministry volunteers Steve Reed, Kevin Reed and Jim Boyd, speak to JoJo Macatiag about rebuilding his stepfathe'rs home at the intersection of Apison Pike and Clonts Road early Thursday morning. Apison residents are beginning the rebuilding process a month after deadly tornadoes ripped through the tri-state area. 
Staff Photo by Dan Henry/Chattanooga Times Free Press
Rebuilding Hope Ministry volunteers Steve Reed, Kevin Reed and Jim Boyd, speak to JoJo Macatiag about rebuilding his stepfathe'rs home at the intersection of Apison Pike and Clonts Road early Thursday morning. Apison residents are beginning the rebuilding process a month after deadly tornadoes ripped through the tri-state area. Staff Photo by Dan Henry/Chattanooga Times Free Press


Hours of operation for the Apison Baptist Church Disaster Relief Center at 11127 Old East Brainerd Road are winding down and the center will close June 18.

Hours are 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily and noon to 6 p.m. Sunday until Tuesday.

Starting June 2, hours are 4-8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

The recovery center provides clothing, nonperishable food, cleaning supplies and personal items for tornado victims.

Source: Hamilton County Emergency Management


(As of Wednesday)

• Alabama — Statewide: 76,391 applicants, almost $43.6 million awarded

Jackson County — 2,236 applicants, nearly $1.6 million awarded

DeKalb County — 2,564 applicants, $2.65 million awarded

Cherokee County — 670 applicants, $334,000 awarded

• Georgia — Statewide: 1,066 applicants, nearly $7 million awarded

Catoosa County — 902 applicants, $636,284 awarded

Dade County — 782 applicants, $711,522 awarded

Gordon County — 27 applicants, $12,030 awarded

Walker County — 526 applicants, $252,209 awarded

• Tennessee — Statewide: 9,000 applicants, $6 million awarded

Bledsoe County — 90 applicants, $145,499 awarded

Bradley County — 1,383 applicants, $705,674 awarded

Hamilton County — 1,937 applicants, $970,671 awarded

McMinn County — 123 applicants, $93,736 awarded

Rhea County — 54 applicants, $132,308 awarded

Source: Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama emergency management agencies

For Willie and Marvin Quinn, time seemed to freeze one month ago today when a tornado brought their Apison home down around them as they huddled in a bathroom and prayed just to live.

“Seems like it was just a few days ago,” Quinn said.

But for Jojo Macatiag, getting the neighborhood he grew up in back to some semblance of order is taking an excruciatingly long time.

Macatiag is a volunteer fireman who last month began helping his uninsured stepfather dig out at the corner of Apison Pike and Clonts Road.

“FEMA wrote him a check, but it’s not enough to rebuild. Same thing’s true for most of the folks here,” Macatiag said.

Now Macatiag is a full-time marshal of volunteers who, one man and woman at a time, are slowly helping this never-to-be-as-it-was neighborhood recover from the record-setting outbreak of tornadoes in late April. More than 300 tornadoes slammed across the Southeast in three days and left more than 325 people dead — including 77 in the tri-state region.In Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia, at least 2,050 homes were damaged or destroyed, according to emergency management officials.

Behind Macatiag’s volunteer tent and across a ravine sits Bobby Elliott’s house and 20-acre farm — now a debris-littered wasteland. FEMA gave Elliott $11,000 to repair his nearly roofless home and replace his blown-away barn, greenhouse and tool shed. The money is not enough to repair the modest and uninsured home he built himself two decades ago.

He’s appealing the FEMA award.

Over on the next hill is Kenneth Carter, whose wrecked house was insured. But Carter, still recovering from a head injury, can’t decide whether to rebuild.

“I never thought in my life I’d have to live through a tornado,” he said. “I woke up, and I was laying out here in the yard. And the house was gone.”

Carter said he doesn’t have to rush a decision because he’s staying with his daughter a few miles away.

“I’m just going along with the flow,” he said.

What’s next?

In a Nashville news conference Thursday, Tennessee Emergency Management Agency Director Jim Bassham and a Federal Emergency Management Agency official asked for survivors’ patience.

“Beginning with Feb. 25, we’ve had an unprecedented rash of weather outbreaks and five presidential [disaster] declarations in Tennessee,” Bassham said.

With new flooding in West Tennessee, he expects at least 80 of the state’s 95 counties to be declared federal disaster areas, probably before the end of next week. Already 40 counties are included in disaster areas, he said.

Georgia and Alabama, too, have their share of disaster declarations. Alabama has at least 43 counties listed and Georgia has 25.

In Apison, Elliott isn’t waiting for his FEMA appeal before he rebuilds.

His frame-and-timber house held tightly to the hilltop that took a direct hit from at least one tornado while he, his son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren hid beneath a twin-bed mattress in a hallway.

But with windows out and the steel roof peeled away, torrents of rain swamped the interior.

“Just about everything in here was soaked,” he said. “My neighbor had some tin piled in a barn. He helped me get it and put it on the roof to get the house in the dry again.”

The roof was shiny blue steel. Now it is multicolored, with dulled red, white and green stripes.

“I told the FEMA inspector that was why I had a roof that looked like Dolly Parton’s coat,” Elliott said. “I don’t think he knew who Dolly Parton is.”

On Friday, Elliott and his girlfriend, Melanie Dorsch, pulled soaked chipboard from the bedroom floors and hammered in new plywood.

As thunder rumbled over the scarred farm, the two stopped to turn on the TV and check the weather report. Dorsch darted out the door to close the windows in Elliott’s borrowed pop-up camper trailer.

“Next time something like this comes along, you’ll find me in a storm shelter,” Elliott said.

Rebuilding with volunteers

Across Clonts Road, the Quinns, both in their 70s, were the first to get a building permit to replace their uninsured home with FEMA help. But the maximum federal grant — about $30,000 — can’t rebuild even a modest home without other help.

At disaster recovery centers around the Southeast, representatives of the federal Small Business Administration are offering applications for low-interest loans to make up the difference. But for many low-income or independent-minded folks, getting back into a house hinges on friends, family or volunteers.

“People say, ‘How can these folks have no insurance?’” said one volunteer who wouldn’t give his name Thursday.

“Well, what’s everyone’s first priorities? Food, a roof, gasoline to drive — and if there’s not enough to spread to insurance, then there’s no insurance,” the man added as he worked with a crew taking down dangerous but still-standing trees.

Macatiag spent Thursday morning between thunderclaps with Jim Boyd, who operates a construction ministry headquartered in Dalton, Ga.

“We have 60 to 80 carpenters coming Monday,” Macatiag said. “We’re trying to figure out a plan to get [foundations] set for about five homes.”

“And maybe get four or five framed up,” Boyd said.

For now, Willie Quinn has put potted marigolds beside the door to a borrowed travel trailer she and her elderly husband are trying to take shelter in. They have no power and the trailer has broken windows, so on most nights they ride with one of their children to Benton, Tenn., to sleep.

“It don’t seem like home here anymore,” Quinn said as she finished her lunch in the volunteer tent.

She looked out at the moonscape of scraped dirt and smoking debris piles, hoping to see the once-wooded yards and corner flower gardens that graced the modest houses and barns that used to be here.

“You blink your eyes and look again, but all the landmarks are gone,” she said.

Tornadoes 2011
about Pam Sohn...

Pam Sohn has been reporting or editing Chattanooga news for 25 years. A Walden’s Ridge native, she began her journalism career with a 10-year stint at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. She came to the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 1999 after working at the Chattanooga Times for 14 years. She has been a city editor, Sunday editor, wire editor, projects team leader and assistant lifestyle editor. As a reporter, she also has covered the police, ...

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