Questions Raised After Saturday’s Storms

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By Shannon Taylor, Editor

Sabrina Bates, Enterprise Editor

Two years ago today, the landscape of Dresden was forever changed when a tornado swept through the town. Fast-forward to Dec. 9, 2023, and another storm event hit parts of Dresden – damaging a handful of homes and some manufacturing facilities, leaving numerous people affected, while donation funds remain in place from the 2021 tornado. 

Citizens are demanding answers from local leadership regarding donation money, no opening of the local Courthouse as a shelter during Saturday’s event, and no siren-warning system in place for the City of Dresden. Residents in Dresden want to know what comes next. 

Regarding donations, when the tornado hit in 2021, local organizations put out requests for donations, eventually raising nearly $1,000,000 to help families “become whole” again. A Long-Term Recovery Group was formed to help field “cases” and connect “survivors” with case managers and ultimately funds and services to help with repairs and rebuilding. The application process for the funds is extensive, with survivors being asked to sign waivers, reveal personal information such as how much money was in their savings and checking accounts, etc.

Many gave up. Some pushed forward. There were numerous in-kind donations, which left an estimated nearly $500,000 remaining in one of the largest organization’s coffers two years later – the Dresden Rotary Club. The Rotary Club has offered no clear reason on why that money has not been used thus far. 

Dresden Rotary Club member April Lieberman spoke out shortly after Saturday’s tornado stating, “Two years later. Still no siren. Still no shelter. Still no organized storm preparation. I helped raise half a million in tornado relief funds for Dresden Rotary, still sitting in the bank. I want those funds made available for people without basements to have storm shelters put in. No more delays or excuses.”

Lieberman stated that she is publicly calling for those funds to be released to help tornado victims “NOW.”

“How many hundreds were as traumatized by today’s tornadoes as I was,” Lieberman asked.

The Weakley County Long-Term Recovery Group released information regarding donations and the distribution of funds on Monday.

“Several funding partners had time restrictions for use of funds in fulfilling requests. To use the maximum amount of funding most effectively, the WCLTRG utilized Lutheran Disaster Relief, the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee, and American Red Cross grant funds in fulfilling case management requests. These funds had to be used by October 31, 2023, due to federal regulations, and would not be available for use after that date. The WCLTRG will now rely on the remaining funding organizations that did not have a time limit for use of funds to complete case management,” the press release noted. For additional information, see “Weakley County’s Long-Term Recovery Group Provides Update.”

Regarding the city of Dresden not having tornado sirens, the city is “pursuing grants” to install a tornado warning outdoor siren system according to Dresden Mayor Mark Maddox, as well as looking to utilize donation funds for installation of those sirens. Dresden is the only city in Weakley County that does not have a siren system.

Dresden Mayor Mark Maddox said the city looked at a couple of grants that the city was not able to get. He added that tornado sirens were expensive for the city and that the city didn’t  have it in the budget at the time, but they are looking at utilizing donations and working with a couple of companies to get tornado sirens in place for Dresden.

In March 2022, the City of Cookeville, Tenn. and Putnam County donated $100,000 to the City of Dresden from its Tornado Relief Fund. Cookeville was devastated in March 2020, when a series of tornadoes hit Middle Tennessee. Donations poured in and Cookeville-Putnam County wanted to assist Dresden, Kenton and Mayfield, Ky., after the impact of the December 2021 tornadoes. 

Then-Dresden Mayor Jeff Washburn requested his board of aldermen to shift the $100,000 donation to Dresden Rotary Club’s Tornado Relief Fund, which was under the umbrella of the West Tennessee United Way’s 501c3 status and the funds were to be earmarked for Dresden citizens with the greatest need.

Meanwhile, construction is underway for a $6-million-plus municipal complex, which will house a community safe room. The incident on Dec. 9 sent two local residents to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries after they were trapped in their homes. Another resident’s home was destroyed.

“I spent this weekend doing what I was doing two years ago this very weekend. Dresden, once again, was blessed to have no loss of life. From what I understand, the residents whose homes were damaged are safe. And we are working with the Long-Term Recovery Group to ensure they are able to get help from that group,” Dresden Mayor Maddox shared on Monday.

Mayor Maddox said he talked with representatives at Champion Homes, a mobile-home manufacturing company located on Evergreen Extended that suffered damage to an interior wall and significant damage to the roof. The local business is facing challenges with an electrical substation that was heavily damaged in Saturday’s tornado. Maddox said the company is working with the Weakley County Municipal Electric System to get a game plan for repairs at the substation.

The former location of Avon Books on Evergreen Extended, now Bunzl, a warehouse and shipping facility, was in the process of moving products out of the building after suffering damage over the weekend. 

In many cases, the Weakley County Courthouse has served as a shelter open to the public during severe weather, however that was not the case when this tornado came through. There were only two shelters open in the county Saturday, after the first storm system came through, Martin’s Gateway Center and a church in Gleason.

Regarding the WC Courthouse not being available as a storm shelter, Weakley County Mayor Jake Bynum responded that, “We are again grateful for the well-being of those impacted by the weather on December 9. We keep those affected in our thoughts and prayers — appreciation to our first responders, utility suppliers, and relief volunteers for their quick action.”

“Yesterday’s events arose quickly, making our ability to provide resources challenged. Weakley County Emergency Management has established a threat level to assist in decision-making. “We will continue to evaluate these policies to serve the community most effectively,” Bynum shared on Sunday.

Bynum explained that the weather threat has to be at level 3 to open the courthouse.

“In most instances, we have advanced warnings of potential tornadic activity. However, that was not the case yesterday. The threat level arose quickly and did not allow us to stage personnel at the Courthouse safely,” Bynum said.

WCMES was out restoring power to parts of Martin Saturday afternoon and repairing snapped poles between Sharon and Greenfield into Monday morning. 

Residents in Weakley County are encouraged to text Weakley911 to 888777 for a free service that provides weather alerts as they happen via text messaging.

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