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Rep. Campbell, Lt. Gov. Ramsey host disaster relief meeting

For Johnson County residents who suffered damages and lost homes and property in the tornado that swept through the mountains of East Tennessee on April 28th, there’s good news and bad news.
The good news is, Johnson County has now received the necessary disaster declaration, making government assistance available in the clean up and rebuilding that is expected to begin soon.
The bad news is, getting assistance in the form of usable dollars can be a tedious, time-consuming process, one wrought with red tape and confusion.
These were the lessons learned at a community meeting Friday afternoon at the Johnson County Crewette building, where more than 100 residents flocked for advice about rebuilding their homes and their lives.
Representatives from several local and state agencies were in attendance. Judy Wasik, of the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA) told the crowd how to go about filing for the federal reimbursement money. The first step, she said, is filling out an application by calling FEMA at 1-800-621-FEMA or visiting www.disasterassistance.gov. “If someone has insurance, but aren’t sure if everything will be covered, they still need to apply,” said Wasik. “There will be all kinds of assistance available.”
“A mobile unit is expected to arrive in Johnson County sometime during the week of May 9th,” said Wasik, which will be staffed with relief workers who can help people fill out aid paperwork.
Johnson County Mayor Larry Potter thanked the volunteer fire departments, the local first responders and Mountain Electric Cooperative for providing assistance. “We’ve had assessment teams in the county all week,” he said. Mayor Potter distributed a list for people to sign up for help in cleaning up. Mountain City Mayor Lawrence Keeble pledged cooperation of the town of Mountain City to those affected the storm. Also in attendance were Eugene Campbell, Johnson County 9-1-1 director, Paul Anderson, director of the Johnson County Rescue Squad, and representatives of the American Red Cross, which has been on the scene and set up at the Doe Valley Fire Department since the storm wreaked havoc.
The Red Cross is currently distributing “referral forms” to those who suffered loss and damages to use towards clothing and supplies. “We have tried to distribute the donations to several local agencies,” said Ellen Watkins, who has provided tremendous assistance to local storm victims. “Hale Community Ministries and Hebron Ministries are currently assisting us with distribution.” Watkins indicates donations to the American Red Cross can be designated to help Johnson County by indicating it on the check and mailing it to 501 S. Wilcox Drive
Kingsport, TN 37660.
“Right now we are focusing on debris clean up,” explained Jason Blevins, Johnson County Emergency Management Director, “and later we will address more structural issues.”
Cleanup crews from across the region have, in fact, descended on the community, the past two weekends causing another concern. Johnson County Sheriff Mike Reece warned residents of scams and people roving around trying to take advantage of the disaster. “I just don’t want to see you taken advantage of,” he told those in attendance. He suggested calling the sheriff’s department with a license plate number if a resident was suspicious of anyone they did not personally know, or anyone not affiliated with the groups scheduled to be in the area, wishing to help.
Bill Snodgrass of Congressman Phil Roe’s office and Kim Cordell from Senator Bob Corker’s Office were in attendance as well as Lana Moore from Senator Lamar Alexander’s office. “It is good the disaster declaration has been made,” said Moore. “We really are here to help.”
“We’re just as new to this as you are,” said Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey. “We know that tornadoes do not hit northeast Tennessee that often.”
After fielding questions concerning timber damage and possible flooding due to debris clogging streams, a question was asked regarding the need for photos of the damage in order receive assistance. Wasik explained FEMA realizes people cannot wait before cleaning up, and suggests storm victims take as many photos as necessary to show the damage in addition to receipts for cleanup.
While many officials and representatives spoke, each hammered home one point throughout the meeting – fill out those aid applications, and soon.
There are several ways to apply for assistance: Call 1-800-621-FEMA (or for hearing-impaired, 1-800-462-7585) between the hours of 7 a.m. and 10 p.m.; visit FEMA’s web site (www.disaster.gov) or www.disasterassistance.gov; or visit FEMA’s mobile disaster recovery centers, which will be set up in the coming week or weeks.