I want to thank everyone for their prayers, giving, patience and willingness to serve those affected by the fires. I also want to thank those groups who went and assisted after the tornados struck different parts of the state. That did not get as much press because of the situation in Gatlinburg, but I am very grateful for the teams that responded.
The area around Gatlinburg was kept mostly closed off to the public until last Friday. For more than the first week, first responders were the only ones let in and after that only home and business owners. Lest you think your Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief personnel have not been doing anything during this time, here is a brief update on what has been happening…
The night of the fire, DR volunteers along with volunteers from FBC Sevierville began feeding those who needed food. We fed those in shelters, National Guard Soldiers and TN state troopers and some other volunteers as requested and are still doing so as needed. We had one recovery team that was going with first responders to open roads for the fire fighters. We had a request for assessors to go out and do damage assessment for the county to determine need for Federal declaration (this was not our normal type of assessment we do). This request came the evening before they were needed, so I used local DR assessors. When parts of Pigeon Forge opened up late last week we started having a few work orders start to come in. These were not in sufficient numbers to warrant bringing in outside teams as the local DR Teams were able to handle them. We brought one team in to assist with logistics in one of their distribution points and have had laundry and shower trailers active assisting in the shelters.
Last Wednesday I gave an estimate of our work to date to the person who was collecting data for the FEMA declaration submission. These are the numbers I reported…
- Volunteers: 223 volunteers
- Volunteer Hours: 10,035 volunteer hours
- Meals Served: 18,365 includes ARC, National Guard, State Troopers
- Showers: 217
- Laundry Loads: 148
- Recovery jobs completed: 8
- Assessments done: 75
- Heavy Equipment Hours: 6
Now and looking forward…
The local authorities have struggled to set up a process to request help. That was just defined Thursday of this week and it is a cumbersome process to say the least. They are still not clear on a debris removal process. The location where people go and request help (the MARC) has not been set up and will open up this coming Monday. In the meantime, we have been putting out our information through different channels and are starting to see a number of requests come in. Friday, we activated two other teams to go and assist.
We are now scheduling other teams to come in and help. We have teams for this week but would like to begin scheduling teams for the coming 3 to 4 weeks. We are looking for chainsaw and ash-out teams. We will be closed down on Dec 24 and 25. Those of you who have responded with your availability, please let Elizabeth know again and also confirm your dates of availability. If you have a team that can come and serve over a weekend or shorter period, that is fine also, please send us your dates of availability.
Joe Martin has also been coordinating the cooking and will be helping to coordinating bringing in small cooking teams to feed our volunteers. If you have folks that would like to volunteer to assist Joe in that area, please send your information and available dates to Elizabeth also.
Things to remember…
- Safety must be your #1 priority when working and serving the people. Many of these locations are on hillsides and have a lot of inherent danger to them. It is a fire situation, which means there will be nails, glass and other broken objects. When cutting trees be extremely careful and examine what you will we doing. There are reports of tress being burn in different parts and yet the tree is still standing (ie. Roots gone but standing, middle of tree burnt partially through but still standing). Use extreme caution for yourselves, those around you and the property around you.
- When doing ash-out, wear an N-95 dust mask, eye and hand protection and other protective gear as recommended. If ash is dry, dampen it down with water so as not to spread the dust. This also applies on demolition.
- We are almost in winter. Protect equipment from freezing and wear proper clothing.
- When working, do your best to not block roads as many of them are narrow mountain roads. Separate debris and they are currently asking that it be set back 15 feet off the road.
- Do not forget that we are there to MINISTER to the people around us, take time to do that. Look for opportunities to listen, encourage, share and pray with those you come into contact with.
The city and county have asked all volunteers to use a specific registration process to work in the area. As teams are enlisted, we will send you a set of instructions that we ask you to follow. You will have to do Formstack for us and also register and log in and out each day through the site they have set up.
Once again, I am grateful for all of you who have responded and continue to respond to those in need. I apologize if you have contacted me and I have not responded back. We were inundated with phone calls, texts and emails over the last few weeks. If I have not responded to a request you had, please contact me again and remind me.
In Christ Serving Together,