Tornado recovery efforts in the past two weeks have had one goal, Sam Smith says: to stabilize the area and those affected by the storms.
Smith says that stabilizing work continues, especially as the threat of severe weather keeps popping up, but officials are also looking at long-term needs in the county.
“We’re just beginning the journey,” he said. “The challenge is is the cameras have all gone, all the people that came from all over the place have all kind of gone back to what they do, and now we’re left to — what do we do to pick up the pieces?”
Smith is CEO of the Hand Up Network, a Tyler-based organization that is working with Panola County to provide recovery and relief, organize volunteer efforts and marshal available resources. He spoke to the Carthage Rotary Club at their Thursday meeting.
Hand Up’s work is tied to five areas:
- spiritual relationships, because Smith says they know a person’s spiritual relationship, whatever it is, is one of their foundations in life
- wellbeing, both mentally and physically
- financial situations
- education and skillset
- support systems
Hand Up Network works closely with the Texas Division of Emergency Management, and when TDEM called the day the tornadoes hit, the nonprofit set up in Mount Enterprise.
“As we started to assess the situation, we realized very quickly most of the major damage in the three counties that were affected is in here in Panola County,” he said.
Smith says Panola County is still facing significant damage in the southern half of the county.
“The storm, the best way to describe it is like a jackrabbit: It just hopped all over the place,” he said. “We’ve got a situation where we have a mobile home that actually was on 407 that actually was found in Louisiana. Next door to them, though, is a mobile home that was moved four feet off its foundation, and the largest tree — true story — largest tree I’ve ever dealt with, fell right in front of that mobile home and kept that mobile home from going anywhere.”
Smith said the county has seen, so far, more than 50 homes with major damage and no insurance.
“We have begun our assessment for all these different homes to start to determine what it is we need to do to be able to effectively try to help people rebuild their lives and get their homes back and established,” Smith said. “So that’s where we are today.”
The challenge, Smith said, was what comes next. There’s still a need for resources, volunteers and money. Hand Up is operating the county’s Emergency Operations Center to coordinate all that.
The EOC is located at the Carthage Civic Center and provides assistance help for those affected by the tornado, volunteer management so those who want to help can find where they need to go and resource gathering so those who have equipment or donations have a drop-off point.
Call (903) 263-3653 to get or offer help. The EOC is not manned full time.
“At the end of the day, it’s going to be Panola taking care of Panola,” Smith said. “We’re certainly going to come alongside, and we’re going to do everything we can to optimize it, but we’re going to need the help of this community.”