published Saturday, May 28th, 2011

People in makeshift shelters watch skies in fear of new storms

HIGDON, Ala.—Strong winds and pelting rain blow bits of debris on County Road 95 and rattle pieces of tin as the dark clouds spread unease and fear.

A month after a tornado killed four people and leveled many homes on the road, most of the residents still live in travel trailers, their salvaged belongings stored in tents and under blue tarps. The makeshift shelters and memories of the storm leave them nervous at the signs of bad weather.

“We couldn’t sleep last night. The wind kept blowing the tin,” Faye Smith said Thursday, as yet another rainstorm pelted hail on twisted trees and a dented red truck. “A storm comes up, and you get nervous.”

Smith and her husband, Ron, live in a tiny travel trailer parked near what once was their home, now a foundation and a few blocks. Their youngest son, Steven Smith, also lost his home.

Just down the road, the rain chases Edward and Kathleen Anderson away from their four-week quest of sifting through the pieces that once were their home and into their temporary travel home. Kathleen Anderson yawned repeatedly.

“We didn’t sleep much last night with all the storms,” she explained. She asked what the weather forecast was for the rest of the week and if the worst of the storms had passed. Like many in the area, the Andersons have little access to news.

Recovery is edging along slowly in rural Jackson County. So far, most of the residents don’t have hopes that they will be able to move out of their temporary housing any time soon.

Crews have removed much of the debris along the side of the road, but trees still lie in twisted piles. Most of the damaged homes have tarpaulins on them. Gardens, their rows of green beans and okra battered by hail, wind and debris, have begun to grow again.

Some of the residents, such as Steven Smith, have returned to work. But that brings a double-edged sword.

“Since I’ve gone back to work, it is hard to get anything done around here,” he said. “We’ve been working some long hours.”

He and his brother-in-law unloaded equipment to begin clearing a pasture littered with downed trees in between thunderstorms.

Volunteer teams have come in to help cut trees and clean debris. Sandra Harris, of Dade County, saw an article in the Chattanooga Times Free Press about County Road 95 residents and organized friends and church groups to help. In the last two weeks, she has raised money and brought in supplies. This week she provided a large trash bin for the Andersons to help in the cleanup effort.

“God laid on my heart that this was the place I needed to help, not just to give money but come personally,” Harris said.

Jay McAnnally, a chaplain with the Carl Black Automotive Group from Kennesaw, Ga., is one of the volunteers who has made many trips to the area. On Thursday, McAnnally and a group of volunteers unloaded cleaning supplies, rakes, shovels and towels at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Bryant and the Flat Rock Community Center before heading out to cut some trees.

The Andersons said they hope to get a Federal Emergency Management Agency mobile home to live in before too long, giving them a little more room as they work to rebuild their home. Edward Anderson, who has diabetes and high blood pressure, repeatedly has fallen going up and down the narrow black stairs leading to their travel trailer.

Several others in the area already have received trailers to live in, they said.

After a FEMA inspection, they received a call saying the agency could not provide a trailer because they lived in a flood plain.

“I told them I didn’t know what map they were looking at, but we lived on a mountain,” Kathleen Anderson said, shaking her head. FEMA representatives conceded they likely had made a mistake and planned to send out another inspector, but said it may take up to three weeks.

Olan and Patricia Smith are among the fortunate ones. On Thursday, as the rain pounded outside, they unpacked belongings in their recently purchased mobile home.

“It’s beginning to get a little better,” Olan Smith, 84, said. “We were lucky we had insurance. I never thought I’d see something like this.”

Ron Smith was less optimistic. It seems like they have made little progress in the last month, and the task of rebuilding is overwhelming, he said.

“It’s gonna be a long, hard road,” he said. “I’d like to just move away and never come back if I had the money.”

about Mariann Martin...

Mariann Martin covers healthcare in Chattanooga and the surrounding region. She joined the Times Free Press in February 2011, after covering crime and courts for the Jackson (Tenn.) Sun for two years. Mariann was born in Indiana, but grew up in Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Belize. She graduated from Union University in 2005 with degrees in English and history and has master’s degrees in international relations and history from the University of Toronto. While attending Union, ...

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