published Friday, April 6th, 2012

Hamilton County's 2012 storm damage costs could surpass total from 2011

Arnold Barker tries to organize and clean up the remains of his garage at his home on Short Tail Springs Road on Thursday. Residents are continuing the cleanup efforts around the Harrison area after February's tornadoes. Though there was extensive property damage, no lives were lost in the storms.
Arnold Barker tries to organize and clean up the remains of his garage at his home on Short Tail Springs Road on Thursday. Residents are continuing the cleanup efforts around the Harrison area after February's tornadoes. Though there was extensive property damage, no lives were lost in the storms.
Photo by Jake Daniels.

HAMILTON COUNTY DAMAGE ESTIMATES

April 27, 2011

• Homes destroyed -- 56 ($5 million)

• Homes with major damage -- 94

• Overall property damage estimate -- $19.8 million

March 2, 2012

• Homes destroyed -- 82 ($10.6 million)

• Homes with major damage -- 24

• Overall property damage estimate -- $16.8 million

Source: Hamilton County Emergency Management Agency


HOW TO APPLY FOR FEMA AID

Those wishing to apply for FEMA assistance can call 1-800-621-FEMA or visit fema.gov. The deadline to register is May 17.


HOW TO VOLUNTEER

Volunteers are needed to help clean up debris in the Harrison area after the March tornado, according to Open House Volunteers. To help, call Doug Walter at 423-488-8661 or Jojo Macatiag at 630-219-8709. You can also call United Way at 211 for volunteer opportunities.

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The tornado that hit Harrison last month didn't claim any lives or carve the same expansive swath of damage across Hamilton County as the tornadoes that struck last year on April 27.

But that single EF3 twister on March 2 destroyed significantly more homes in the county than the 2011 outbreak, and total damage costs could surpass those from last year, county officials estimate.

"We had numerous tornadoes last year and this year we had only one. But it went through a much more densely populated area this time and some very expensive neighborhoods," said Bill Tittle, chief of Hamilton County's Emergency Management Agency.

Preliminary assessments performed by the agency show the March 2 twister destroyed 82 homes worth a total of $10.6 million. The April 27 tornadoes destroyed a total of 56 homes worth a combined $5 million.

The estimated overall property damage costs caused by the April 27 tornadoes -- just under $20 million -- still exceeds preliminary figures for the March storms by about $3 million.

But damage totals from the latest tornado are still climbing, and officials believe final figures could end up being close to the same -- or more -- than last year's disaster.

"The April [2011] storms had a higher total damage estimate because of the large number of affected properties," said Greg Helms, lead emergency management planner for Hamilton County. "But there is no doubt that more properties were destroyed this year."

In 2011, the most devastating tornado -- an EF4 -- hit the primarily rural Apison area, though it killed eight people in that community alone. The March tornado affected a highly populated, suburban area.

"It's interesting that we had nine fatalities [in Hamilton County] last year, but we had more homes devastated this year than we did last year, but we didn't have any deaths," Tittle said. "I really cannot explain that."

Hamilton County Human Services Administrator Don Allen said that more homeowners affected by the March 2 storm had insurance than those affected by the April 27 storms.

"Still, their lives have been devastated," Allen said.

According to numbers released Thursday by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, about 400 parties have registered for federal disaster assistance in Hamilton County and about 100 in Bradley County. After the storms last year, more than 2,400 registrations poured in from Hamilton, while over 1,600 came from Bradley, FEMA numbers show as of April 4.

Ted Stuckey, a Federal Emergency Management Agency employee working temporarily at the state/FEMA joint field office, said he generally tries to avoid comparing natural disasters.

"You've got so many variables in play. You've got to factor in insurance rates and other things like that," said Stuckey. "It doesn't matter how expansive one disaster was compared with another. For that one person who had their home destroyed -- It's a major disaster."

Though Hamilton County is continuing to provide cleanup services and local social agencies such as United Way and Salvation Army are still working in the damaged areas, Tittle acknowledged that public attention on the March tornado has begun tapering off.

Several volunteers in Harrison Thursday said they had seen a significant drop in the number of volunteers at the sites lately, though they are still needed.

"I think last time, it was so widespread it affected so many more people," Tittle said. "This time it affected just one segment of our community, so the general public doesn't seem to have as much of a sense to what's going on."

Staff writer Ansley Haman contributed to this story.

This story was edited on April 6, 2012. Ted Stuckey is a Federal Emergency Management Agency employee.

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