The toll of the March 2020 tornadoes is well documented. But at the one-year anniversary, the recovery is harder to quantify — and very much a work in progress.
So as relief groups take stock of what they’ve done, they’re also pointing to what remains unfinished, and highlighting the remaining resources that they hope will sustain the “marathon” effort.
You can hear an overview conversation about Middle Tennessee’s rebuilding process in the audio above. Below are details about how to access survivor resources, and to see an accounting of the relief efforts.
Local and federal agencies are still working with storm survivors, and some $4.8 million remains in the tornado response fund overseen by the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee.
“We’re still here. And those of you who told us ‘no,’ you can tell us ‘yes’ now,” says Amy Fair, vice president of donor services.
Fair notes that relief agencies are finding families who initially declined aid, but who have found the past year harder than expected.
In late 2020, relief groups launched a special “unmet needs” committee to intentionally provide another avenue to connect survivors with case managers.
This includes a 24-hour helpline run by the Tennessee United Methodist Committee on Relief: 615-270-9255.
Fair is quick to note that the work is not just about rebuilding, but about the “invisible recovery.” So there’s still help for food, rent, utilities, and trauma counseling, among other options.
“The construction is really just a piece of it,” she says. “There’s a lot of invisible recovery that speaks volumes.”
As examples, the foundation has allotted some $290,000 to mental health services and $145,000 to diapers and formula for families.
Relief by the numbers
A federal disaster declaration brought substantial aid to Middle Tennessee.
- The Federal Emergency Management Agency has reimbursed localities with $15.6 million and given out $2.8 million to nearly 800 individual applications.
- The U.S. Small Business Administration, meanwhile, has approved $9.5 million in disaster loans.
- Locally, the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee raised $12.5 million from 22,000 donors. More than half of the foundation’s money has gone out to 108 nonprofits in multiple counties, and a large portion has been set aside for ongoing reconstruction needs.
More work to do
Despite progress, the remnants of the storm remain obvious across the storm path.
In some cases, destroyed homes are yet to be demolished, while other families are preparing to move back into totally rebuilt homes.
Businesses and institutions are seeing a similar mix, ranging from untouched to reopened.
And in some cases, including in Benton and Putnam counties, families have chosen not to rebuild.
WPLN News reviewed building permits related to storm-damaged properties, but a full accounting of the progress across counties is inconclusive.
For buildings that were destroyed or marked for “major” damage in Nashville, about three-quarters have pulled some type of permit from Metro Codes. In Putnam County — where 151 homes were destroyed — it appears to be a smaller share, between one-fifth and one-third. Permits are an imprecise measure because of the variety of damages, repairs and permitting requirements across counties.
Another challenge, especially in the Cookeville area, has been finding builders.
“We had a building boom going on before the tornado and now all the contractors are booked out for a couple of years and some even more,” says Putnam County Mayor Randy Porter. “I have heard of others wanting to rebuild but having to wait.”
There are also intangibles to assess.
Vanderbilt University researcher Daniel Perrucci studies post-disaster housing and has used the past year to compare the pace of the rebound in East Nashville and Mt. Juliet. His observations are ongoing, but his periodic aerial photography appears to show some differences in how quickly debris was cleared and roofs repaired.
He’ll also be surveying survivors about daily life.
“When you think about families going out for a walk after the disaster happens, there’s large impacts if there’s nails on the ground, or if there’s 10-foot [debris] piles blocking the way, or recovery materials on the sidewalks,” he says.
Perrucci also hopes his work will direct resources to neighborhoods that are in need of more attention.