By Ashley Perham
Baptist and Reflector
CLARKSVILLE — The Cumberland Baptist Disaster Relief Team is normally busy. They have been deployed five times in the past six months to areas outside Middle Tennessee, according to Carolyn Watson, the team’s director.
However, this past week, they have been assisting much closer to home. The team has been removing trees that fell down in the June 21-22 storms in Clarksville.
Watson said that her team completed two downed tree jobs on Sunday and had 14 more to do, although there would probably be more calls.
“I anticipate we’ll get five or six more. We’ll end up with about 20 jobs,” Watson said.
The trees blew over in the storms both Friday night and Saturday.
“When it rains a lot, and the ground gets really saturated, a lot of older trees that don’t have a real good root system where the roots run way out, they’ll get top heavy in a violent windstorm, and they’ll topple over,” Watson explained. “The first one did, and it went inside a house.”
Middle Tennessee likely experienced a severe storm called a derecho Friday night, June 21, according to the Tennessean. A derecho is a characterized by intense, straight-line winds and can produce destruction similar to tornado destruction, according to the National Weather Service. The NWS recorded winds up to 80 mph, which resulted in downed trees all over the region.
Around 50,000 people in Nashville were without power at one point, according to local news outlets. It was the largest power outage in seven years for Nashville Electric Service, according to WTVF. 12,000 people lost power in Clarksville, according to the Clarksville Leaf-Chronicle.
Clarksville was hit with two more rounds of storms on Saturday, with gusts up to 52 mph. Downed trees made up most of the storm damage, according to emergency management agency director Ed Baggett.
For Watson’s DR team, most of the jobs are in the Hazelwood subdivision of Clarksville, Watson said. Each job takes about two to three hours. The team has about 30 volunteers.
“Thirty can’t go all the time. Most of us are retired. Some of us still work part-time,” Watson said. “We usually will have about 12 who can work at one time.”
The Disaster Relief Team has been busy since its start 18 years ago. The team formed right after 9/11 to go to New York, to help serve food. Then, they changed to a recovery team.
“We go in after disasters and do all types of recovery: fire, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes. We have chainsaw equipment. Flood recovery equipment. Fire recovery equipment. Everything like that,” Watson explained.
The team constantly trains, Watson said.
“We must be certified to do this. We’re Southern Baptist, so in order for us to be on a Southern Baptist team, we must be trained and certified.”
Watson, who has been in charge of the team for the past 18 years, and Steve Dusenberry, her co-director, must be trained to train, she said.
Watson is also trained by FEMA and is able to set up a command center if needed.
The team also trains for other jobs besides recovery, just in case.
“We have laundry and shower units and feeding units, so we do other training in case we get somewhere and they need us,” Watson said.
Once, the team was even called to do body recovery in New Orleans after a hurricane had emptied caskets of their occupants.
Funding for the disaster relief efforts comes from the Cumberland Baptist Association and private donations, while the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board provides funding for larger disasters such as fires.
Watson asked for prayer for more volunteers and for the victims who are shocked by the damage.
“They don’t know how to react. When you look up and there’s a tree limb hanging in your living room, you’re devastated.”
Watson also explained why the need for more volunteers was so great.
“We need more people from our local Baptist churches to step up and become a part of this because the disasters are closer and the need is becoming greater,” Watson said. “We’re about to go into hurricane season, and the last three hurricanes have been so devastating that we spent all last summer in North Carolina and Georgia.”
The team’s next big job is in Arkansas in three weeks to do flood recovery. B&R