USA: Project Gassville Final Report

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In appreciation of our volunteers, the HODR colors flew over the City of Gassville, Arkansas on Feb. 28, 2008.

From February 12 to March 3, 2008, HODR volunteers assisted the Gassville, Arkansas, community after a tornado cut a diagonal path across the city on February 5, 2008. Gassville, a city of approximately 2,000 people, suffered a direct hit by an EF2 tornado which destroyed 79 homes and severely damaged an additional 100. A total of 267 structures were affected.

After evaluating the damage and meeting with local churches, city officials and volunteers, HODR saw a need for greater coordination of resources and volunteers. The Mayor of Gassville, Danny Smith, welcomed HODR and gave us office space inside the City Hall and Community Center complex. Pastor Blake from the Cotter United Methodist Church put us up for the first few nights and then the Riverside Church of Christ graciously allowed us to set up volunteer housing inside their church.

By the Numbers
HODR coordinated 205 volunteers over the 21-day project. Volunteers helped 73 families through 96 completed work orders, plus an additional 60 referrals, connecting tornado survivors to assistance such as food and shelter. Volunteers contributed approximately 3,315 hours of work and saved the city of Gassville an estimated $62,700 in labor costs. The costs incurred by HODR were less than $8,000. Gassville has received grant assistance from FEMA and the money saved by the city can be used toward the 12% matching funds for which they are responsible. The city will be able to claim $10 for each volunteer hour and up to $6 for each yard of debris hauled; an estimated match savings of $35,850.

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Connecting the Dots
The Gassville Coordination Center (GCC), set up and powered by HODR volunteers, helped get the overall Gassville recovery effort organized and on the right track. We held weekly coordination meetings where local, state, and federal government officials could interact with community organizations and local churches. The meetings helped get all those involved communicating and on the same page.

HODR alums Beca, Scott and Brian led the charge for the GCC’s efforts, connecting survivors to a list of resources available in the area. We connected people with donations of food, housing, clothing, toiletries, storage units, furniture and organizations providing financial assistance. The Coordination Center provided a place for those affected to seek assistance and those wanting to volunteer a place to plug in and jump on a crew in the field. The Coordination Center relieved a huge strain on city employees, who on top of their normal jobs were now trying to coordinate volunteers and survivors looking for answers.

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Mapping
Brian, a hiker and mapping aficionado from NH, put his skills to work and mapped out the tornado’s track through Gassville which helped paint the picture of the overall damage. Brian’s color-coded map has been used continuously by the city building inspectors and has also been used in several FEMA briefings on the area! HODR is again ahead of the curve!

Structure Demolition
Randy from the construction company RBC Inc. in Mountain Home, AR donated his time and equipment (dump trucks and excavator) and took down two houses and a church that were structurally unsound and could not be rebuilt. Other volunteers followed close behind armed with rakes, shovels, and wheelbarrows and made it “look like a golf course” according to Randy. With the help of local volunteers and a donation from Keith Hurst and the First Baptist Gravel Ridge Church of Jacksonville, AR volunteers demolished a third condemned house. Often times, insurance settlements are not enough to cover the cost of rebuilding a destroyed home. Many in this area were either uninsured or underinsured. By utilizing donated labor, equipment and funds to demolish these structures, we’ve provided a clean slate and saved their owners a considerable amount of money that can now be used to rebuild.

Debris Pick-up
Most of the 200+ volunteers that worked with Project Gassville made their impact cleaning up debris and clearing trees. Volunteers Brad, Yvon, Deke, Brooke, Joey and Tom helped haul 30+ loads (over 450 yards) of curbside debris to the dump, saving the City valuable time and money. They also led volunteer crews in the clearing of trees and debris off of lots and loaded the trailers directly. We converted several of the city’s flat bed landscape trailers into debris haulers by building up the sides, and used them almost everyday.

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Roofing
Volunteers from the First Baptist Gravel Ridge Church led by Keith Hurst re-roofed one home and repaired two others. The team from Gravel Ridge also patched the back wall of a home that had been blown out during the tornado.

Moving
We helped 6 families pack up and move into new homes or place their things into a storage unit while they firm up housing options. This service was particularly useful for elderly residents who were forced to move out of the severely damaged mobile home park. Our trucks, trailers, and volunteers provided the muscle and right price (free) for retirees on a fixed income.

FOOD!
The Riverside Church of Christ was amazing! A network of Riverside church volunteers and the Salvation Army provided lunches on alternating days, feeding our hungry working crews on-site. Also a huge thanks to Riverside and the Assembly of God Church for preparing our dinners! Home cooking every night of the week! Arguably the best food of any HODR deployment.

The City
Mayor Danny Smith supported HODR throughout our project and connected us with great people like Tony Flippin. Tony, a City of Gassville employee, was our main point of contact with the city each day and was an incredible team player. We worked with the city’s plan for recovery and helped speed up the debris clean-up by weeks!

The Baxter County Sheriff’s Department took HODR on a helicopter tour of Gassville. We surveyed the tornado’s path and got a sense of what volunteers had accomplished thus far. Our work sites looked so clean!

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Arkansas Congressman Marion Berry and Baxter County Judge Dan Hall stopped by HODR’s Gassville Coordination Center and thanked volunteers for their hard work. The Congressman and Judge chatted with volunteers from MA, TX and NH about the strength of the Gassville community and their experience leading volunteer efforts. As always, the HODR cameras were ready to go.

Groups
We hosted volunteer groups from Arkansas State University Nursing Program, Emmanuel Church of Mountain Home, Kimberling City United Methodist Church of MO, BonaResponds, Rocky Ledge Baptist Church of MO, Future Business Leaders of America of Yellville High School, 1st United Methodist Church of Conway, AR, Gassville Riverside Church of Christ, Rogers Church of Christ, Fellowship Bible Church of Mt. Home, AR, the Girdner Community, and Wallis Construction.

The hand-off
We have transitioned the Gassville Coordination Center over to two AmeriCorps members. They will be providing Gassville with long-term recovery support for the next two months. The community will use the weekly coordination meetings that we started as a foundation for a long-term recovery committee to address the unmet needs that will arise over the next year. Click here to read a local newspaper article about the transition. We are no longer active in Gassville but for those still interested in volunteering in the area, the Coordination Center can be reached at 870-706-7490.

HODR would like to thank all of the amazing volunteers that came from near and far and all of our new-found friends in Gassville for their support. It was a privilege for all of us at HODR to work side by side with the City of Gassville and the local churches to help the community recover.

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Bill Driscoll Jr.
Operations Director
Hands On Disaster Response

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