Lynchburg, VA (News & Advance) : 

A majority of home and business owners who suffered losses from April’s tornado are looking mostly to their insurance companies and the help of local agencies to help them get their lives back on track.


Following assessments, Ed Porner, director of recovery with the Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM), said Lynchburg doesn’t meet damage criteria to receive aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). He also said VDEM and FEMA jointly have determined there will be no individual assistance from FEMA offered in Amherst and Campbell counties.


About 92 percent of people whose properties in Lynchburg were damaged had insurance, he said, which tips the scale away from the city receiving aid.


“We didn’t see a lot of cases of unmet needs,” he said.


In Amherst County, where an estimated 170 homes suffered $10 million in damages, 10 families did not have insurance, though likely many more are underinsured, County Administrator Dean Rodgers said.


In Campbell County, with $17.2 million in damage assessments, public safety and community development officials said most properties affected by the tornado were insured.


According to Porner, 17 structures in Lynchburg were destroyed, and 36 suffered major damage from the storm. He said Lynchburg has met the threshold for city residents and business owners to be applicable for loans from the Small Business Administration, a federal agency that offers disaster loans to those affected by large storms or other disasters. As contiguous counties, Amherst and Campbell also will qualify for SBA applications.


Damage from the February 2016 tornado that struck Appomattox County didn’t prompt any federal aid from FEMA, but SBA loans were made available in June 2016 to those affected. Then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe made two failed attempts at getting the storm federally declared a disaster so the area could receive aid.


In comparison, 49 percent of homes affected by the Appomattox tornado had insurance.


The latest damages estimate in Lynchburg is $9.6 million, according to Community Development Director Kent White. He said 34 structures have been condemned following the storm.


Lynchburg community leaders are in the process of establishing a long-term recovery group, according to a news release this week from the city. The group will serve to pool local resources and keep up with the needs of affected residents.


Joan Phelps, director of community impact for the United Way of Central Virginia, will serve as the chair of that long-term recovery group. Following an organizational meeting Tuesday, she said assessments have suggested there are about 70 households in the city that may need some type of aid following the storm. Members of the recovery group will work to triage community resources and needs, she said.


“I’m hoping we can move through the next stages quickly so we can at least determine what our needs are and then start addressing those needs,” she said.


Concerned citizens and churchgoers have donated more than $39,000 to Thomas Road Baptist Church since the storm, and church volunteers have focused their outreach efforts on residents at the Brentwood Estates mobile home park off of Lakeside Drive, where at least 12 homes either were destroyed or sustained heavy damage, according to city data.


Tim Grandstaff, missions and outreach director at the church, said six families are staying in rooms at the Liberty University-owned annex property off of Odd Fellows Road that church volunteers cleaned and made ready for them. Those families are staying for free on a month-by-month basis while they figure out what their next move may be. In the meantime, Grandstaff said Thomas Road has provided them with financial help to buy groceries.


The church also will install three new mobile homes that either were donated or purchased, and volunteers will work throughout June to demolish and rebuild four other mobile homes and shift three more homes back onto their foundations.


Grandstaff, who also attended the Lynchburg long-term recovery group’s organizational meeting, said Thomas Road aims to complete the bulk of work at Brentwood by the end of June, starting with demolition work volunteers were chipping away at Wednesday. The church also plans to work with the Brentwood property owner to install some neighborhood amenities like a playground, picnic tables and an outdoor grill, he said.


He said long-term rebuilds like the one Thomas Road is working on in Brentwood are familiar territory because of “village transformation” mission work churchgoers have done elsewhere.


“If we can transform a village in Guatemala, why can’t we transform a trailer park in our own city?” he said Wednesday.


Rodgers said the Amherst Disaster Recovery Group, another local group focused on rehabilitating residents, finalized its bylaws Wednesday and will be holding a general meeting June 13 to elect members of a core executive committee and other committee chairs within the group. From there, Rogers said they’ll be compiling information and aiming to start work on prioritized community needs within the month.


Brad Mullinax, pastor at River Church in Madison Heights and chair of the ADRG, said everyone who was displaced by the tornado in Amherst has a place to live, whether it’s temporary or long term.


Michael Justice, director of donor services Gleaning for the World, said the nonprofit has donated close to $90,000 in material to April 15 tornado survivors between Central Virginia and North Carolina. Of that total, more than $66,000 has gone toward those in Central Virginia.


The materials provided — among them hygiene supplies, food and cleaning supplies — are for the first two of three disaster recovery stages. Justice said the nonprofit typically deals in those two stages of recovery but not so much the third stage of rebuilding after a disaster.


“Usually by this point, we’d probably be done with what we’re trying to do,” he said. “Since this is so close to us here, we want to be involved with that … and help out as much as we possibly can.”


Gleaning will be keeping up with the Amherst recovery group to gauge how to move forward in helping survivors through that final, rebuilding stage of recovery. Justice said help could come in the form of providing furniture, grinding stumps or with roofing. Gleaning also is keeping track of donors who specifically earmark their contributions for local tornado victims, he said.


To view original article by Rachael Mahoney, click here.