Now that Storms Well Past, Recovery Begins in Earnest

By Bill Dries

The recovery effort from Tuesday’s storms that killed three people in Memphis and 32 across Tennessee is moving beyond the initial shock at week’s end over the human and property loss.

President George W. Bush was to tour the town of Lafayette, Tenn., this morning as one of several stops in five states hit by the swarms of tornadoes. In Lafayette and surrounding Macon County, 14 people were killed in the tornadoes. More than 40 people were injured there.

Gov. Phil Bredesen, who was slated to be with today in Lafayette, was in Memphis Thursday completing a two-day tour of the places in West and Middle Tennessee that were devastated.

“We got hit really hard,” said Bredesen as he stood beneath what used to be part of the roof of a Pinnacle Airlines hangar at Memphis International Airport. “The next week or two is when we go out there and try to get some money into the hands of people to begin the rebuilding process.”

That process begins today with a formal assessment of property damage for the state’s application for federal disaster assistance to be considered by Bush. Bredesen requested the federal disaster declaration in writing Thursday in Sumner County, at the end of his tour.

Bredesen talked with Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton and Pinnacle Airlines CEO Phil Trenary Thursday in Memphis, as workers in a cherry picker a few yards away dislodged large errant chunks of insulation from the rafters of the 45,000-square-foot hangar. A bright sun and a blue sky were where the rest of the roof should have been.

The hangar cleanup was expected to end today as construction work began, Trenary said. The plan is to curtain off the third of the hangar that lost a section of roof in Tuesday’s storm.

“We really had to do a lot of rebuilding. Today (Thursday) is our first quasi-normal day. We should be 98 percent in a couple of more days,” Trenary said. “We should have construction well under way sometime (Friday). And this place will actually look better than it did, in two weeks.”

With Bredesen Thursday at the Memphis stop was FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) Administrator R. David Paulison. He will make the recommendation on the level of disaster assistance in the declaration Bush is likely to sign sometime next week.

“We’re just really sad that we’ve had 55 people killed – 32 right here in this state. That’s the tough thing,” Paulison told The Daily News. “Homes we can rebuild. We can put roofs back on hangars. We can fix cars. But when people lose their lives, we can’t fix that.”