Written by Aubri Dancek and Bailey DuBose
Parts of Hamilton County, along with other parts of east Tennessee and north Georgia, were hit by an EF3 tornado on April 12 leaving many homes, businesses and structures destroyed. Six months later, Collegedale and surrounding areas are still recovering from the damages.
According to Hamilton County Lead EMA (Emergency Management Agency) Planner Gregory Helms, a tornado damage assessment of building value was conducted on April 16 for Hamilton County, and the grand total of damage is about $160 million. The assessment includes land use, mixed use residential, multi-family/mixed use, public, commercial, duplex, public/school, multi-family and residential. The assessment then categorizes the damage by severity: minor, major and destroyed. The total cost for residential damages in all categories is about $86 million.
Kehiry Castillo, a senior production media major, was at home on Jenkins Road near Standifer Gap with her family when the storm first hit.
“Nothing major happened to my house, but my neighborhood, as well as the surrounding neighborhoods, were hit really bad by the tornado,” Castillo said. “I couldn’t recognize anything when my family and I came out to see the damage the tornado had made. All of the electric poles on my street were down, and I couldn’t see some of the houses because they were surrounded by trees.”
According to Castillo, there are still a few houses in her neighborhood that are in need of repair.
“My neighborhood is way better than it was a couple of months ago,” Castillo said. “Most of the houses that were damaged have already been fixed or rebuilt, and others are going through that process right now.”
Cristy Pratt, a Southern Adventist University psychology professor, recalls the April tornado that caused major holes in her roof and massive damage to her yard and others in the neighborhood.
According to Pratt, most of the Drake Forest subdivision located off of Shallowford Road, where she lives, was destroyed and needed to be rebuilt from the ground up.
“Most of the [houses] on the front part of my street are back to normal, but there are still lots of houses in our neighborhood that are waiting for demolition before beginning to [be] rebuilt from ground up,” Pratt said. “We were told over 200 homes in our neighborhood are having to be rebuilt.”
Pratt and her family had to be out of her house for four weeks while it was being repaired. Most of her neighbors are still staying in rented houses as their homes are being rebuilt, according to Pratt.
“Dealing with insurance is a long and difficult process, and it’s very slow,” Pratt said. “Over half of our neighborhood still needs to be rebuilt. It’s devastating.”
The Accent interviewed two Collegedale Commissioners who participated in the clean-up efforts after the storm.
Commissioner Debbie Baker assisted her neighborhood in getting medical treatment by unlocking the entrances so the emergency crews could enter.
“The most important are the people who pulled their resources together,” Baker said. “Neighbors helped neighbors. Citizens contributed their own resources, whether it was backhoes or backbones, to help not only family and friends but to help total strangers. I am very proud of the people who set aside differences and worked together as a team to ensure the safety of others. It’s the people that make Collegedale great!”
Vice Mayor Tim Johnson and his family volunteered with a group called Open House Volunteers to help clean some of the hardest hit areas. Most of his weekends following the storm involved cutting trees, moving and burning debris.
“Honestly, the interaction with impacted families stands out to me the most. Their eyes were searching for help when we would arrive. The hugs and tears they shared will always remain etched in my mind,” Johnson said.
Bidgett Raper is the strategist for the Small Cities Coalition of Hamilton County. On behalf of the City of Collegedale Raper said most of Collegedale has recovered from the storm.
“The City of Collegedale and its citizens worked together after the disaster to quickly get the city cleaned and repaired,” Raper said. “Thanks to the hard work of so many people, especially the city’s Public Works Department, Collegedale has mostly recovered from the tornado’s devastation. Damage to the city facilities has been repaired or is nearing completion. Thankfully, insurance covered the majority of the cost of repairs.” According to the Tennessee Office of the First Lady’s website, Tennessee Serves Tornado Survivors, those who have been affected in Hamilton County by the April tornado and are in need of immediate assistance can contact the Red Cross of Southeast Tennessee or the Salvation Army of Chattanooga.