By Lonnie Wilkey
editor, Baptist and Reflector
BRENTWOOD — Some things just can’t be sugarcoated — especially disaster relief work in sub-freezing temperatures.
“There’s no glamour in working outside in the cold with snow over your ankles,” acknowledged Mike Overcash, interim Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief director.
Cold weather poses an entirely different set of issues to deal with as compared to traditional disaster responses that take place from the spring through the fall during the hurricane and tornado seasons, he said.
“Typically we have to deal with the heat, not the cold.”
In late February and early March, however, it was the cold (along with a lot of snow and ice) that Tennessee volunteers braved to help hundreds of residents across the state affected by ice and snow storms in late February.
Numerous volunteer teams from churches and associations all across the state rallied to clear trees from roads and homes in Middle and East Tennessee.
In some cases, the work done by the volunteers enabled local electric companies to get into the area so they could restore electricity to the thousands of homes that lost power due to the ice storm.
Because of the number of residents statewide who were affected, cleanup teams stayed busy through the early days of March to minister and meet needs, Overcash said.
Ice is a problem, acknowledged volunteer Dale Ledbetter, director of missions for Maury Baptist Association, based in Columbia. Ledbetter was part of a five-member team that served recently near Clarkrange.
Overcash noted that often volunteers have to knock ice off the limbs before they can be cut with a chain saw.
Ledbetter added that portions of the limbs freeze and stick to the ground making it hard to remove the limbs once they are cut.
But problems in cold weather go far beyond that, volunteers agree.
Jim Ramey, disaster relief director for Sullivan Baptist Association, based in Kingsport, noted that cold weather especially wreaks havoc on shower trailers and laundry units.
Water supply and other lines will freeze if they are outside, Ramey said. “These units need to be in a heated, controlled environment,” he stressed.
The weather is a determining factor in what we can and can’t do in a cold weather response, Ramey continued.
“If we can have a controlled environment, we can take care of anybody, anywhere,” said Ramey, a member of Sullivan Baptist Church in Kingsport.
If teams are not careful in transporting and monitoring where shower and laundry units will be set up, “you can create more problems than you can cure on the field,” Ramey said. Damaged equipment ultimately must be repaired, he added.
Carolyn Watson, a member of Hilldale Baptist Church, Clarksville, and disaster relief director for Cumberland Baptist Association, based in Clarksville, is brutally honest about her assessment of cold weather DR responses.
“The only good thing about cold weather disaster relief is that we are helping people in need,” she said.
“Cold weather response is different because it doesn’t matter how many layers of clothing you wear, you can’t get warm,” Watson continued.
There are dangers to working in cold weather, she observed, from getting cold and wet and not even realizing it to slipping on ice.
But cold weather response is needed because many times people who are without electricity can’t have it repaired until roads are cleared of trees, Watson said. “We can’t say no when it’s too cold because people will die without electricity,” she stressed.
Overcash agreed that cold weather can’t prevent disaster relief volunteers from meeting needs.
“That’s what disaster relief is all about — sharing Christ in crisis,” he said.
He is especially grateful for the numerous volunteers who braved the elements in February and early March to assist fellow Tennesseans in need.
Government officials across the state even took notice.
David Purkey, deputy commissioner of the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency, thanked volunteers via an e-mail. “I don’t know what we would have done without you,” he wrote.