On Saturday, December 9, 2023, Sumner County was hit by an EF2 tornado with a max width of 400 yards and winds up to 130mph that travelled over 29 miles, first touching down near Madison before hitting Rockland Road and running up Main Street in Hendersonville and moving on through to the Foxland Harbor area in Gallatin. Weakening slightly to an EF1, it also caused damage along Highway 109, Steam Plant Road, and Hartsville Pike in Gallatin, as well as, Lauderdale Lane in Castalian Springs. Approximately 600 homes and businesses were damaged in Sumner County including 37 homes that were destroyed or had major damage. The Hendersonville Business District was severely impacted with 137 businesses hit. Of those, 74 were destroyed or deemed condemned. As a result, more than 300 employees were out of work just two weeks before Christmas.
Immediately after the storm hit on Saturday night, United Way of Sumner County (UWSC) jumped into action. By Sunday night, UWSC had set-up a Disaster Relief Hub with real-time information for disaster victims, a link for those who wanted to donate to the UWSC Disaster Relief Fund, and instructions for how to donate supplies and/or volunteer to help with Disaster Relief Efforts. By Monday morning, UWSC was operational at a Disaster Relief Headquarters at the Streets of Indian Lake in partnership with the Hendersonville Chamber of Commerce and Birdie Brothers who served as an after hours supplies donation drop site. We had also secured dumpsters to aid in cleanup at areas with the most damage.
The community rallied and donations began to pour in. Cleaning supplies, water, food, portable heaters and generators, tarps, rakes, tools, paper towels, plastic tubs, and personal care items were organized by volunteers who distributed supplies to victims coming in for assistance. Numerous restaurants and food trucks donated food for volunteers and public works employees and delivered meals to the neighborhoods hit the hardest.
In the first few days following the tornado, as victims began to survey property and realize the extent of the damage, United Way of Sumner County Help Centers and partner agencies stepped up to meet the most urgent needs. Supplied with emergency funding from the United Way of Sumner County Disaster Relief Fund, they helped small business owners who had lost their only source of income, and covered payroll for employees. They helped employees who had lost income, to cover bills that were due. They provided food and warming centers to those who had gone without power for days. They gave shelter and gas cards to those who had been displaced by the storms. They made sure families who had been impacted had Christmas presents for their children.
To allow public works and utility companies time and room to clear streets and get power restored, local government initially asked volunteers not to enter neighborhoods to remove debris. Many victims also needed time for insurance adjusters to assess damage before cleanup could begin. United Way of Sumner County began taking sign-ups from the hundreds of caring community members who wanted to volunteer to help. We partnered with Beautiful Hendersonville, the City of Hendersonville, the City of Gallatin, the Hendersonville Chamber of Commerce, and Hands-on-Nashville to coordinate a Community Wide Cleanup Day on Saturday, December 16. Over 850 volunteers showed up to lend a hand in cleaning up homes, businesses, parks, and neighborhoods!
As of February 20, 2024, the UWSC Disaster Relief Fund had raised over $155,000 from 305 donors! We have been blown away by the response from local business partners and individual donors who quickly responded to meet the needs of so many hurting neighbors who had been impacted by the December 9 storm! The first wave of relief went out on December 12, 2023, in the amount of $6,499 to Clean Site Dumpsters for immediate disaster cleanup and to combat community deterioration. A quick release of funds in the amount of $15,000 total was also distributed on December 12, 2023, to UWSC Help Centers with $5,000 each to Hendersonville Samaritan Association, Gallatin CARES, and Unlimited Potential, to meet urgent financial needs of disaster victims.
By December 16, 2023, we had activated our official Disaster Relief Grant Application open to any eligible 501©3 non-profit or faith-based organization providing local direct service to Sumner County victims for relief and recovery efforts due to the December 9, 2023, tornados. Phase 1 funding in the amount of $70,000 was approved by the UWSC Executive Committee with funds released on December 21, 2023, to four agencies: $30,000 went to Hendersonville Samaritan Association and $15,000 went to Gallatin CARES for each of them to continue to meet financial needs of disaster victims. Another $20,000 went to Habitat for Humanity of Sumner County to help disaster victims cover repairs and insurance deductibles. The remaining $5,000 was sent to Gallatin Shalom Zone to provide Christmas gifts for the children of disaster victims.
Phase 2 funding in the amount of $18,160 was approved and released on January 24, 2024. Of those funds, another $12,000 went to Hendersonville Samaritan Association to continue to help disaster victims with financial needs. $2,500 went to Legal Aid Society to provide legal advice to Sumner County disaster victims. $2,660 went to Second Harvest Food Bank to address emergency food needs for disaster victims and another $1,000 went to Unlimited Potential to help meet basic needs of disaster victims.
Phase 3 funding in the amount of $23,000 was approved and released on January 31, 2024. Of those funds, an additional $8,000 sent to Hendersonville Samaritan Association for continued support and financial assistance for individuals and families impacted by the disaster. A grant of $15,000 was given to the Hendersonville Chamber Foundation to provide financial assistance to small business disaster victims.
Phase 4 funding in the amount of $10,000 was approved and released on February 12, 2024 to go to Gallatin CARES to continue to provide support and financial assistance to individuals and families impacted by the tornado.
As we transition from Disaster Relief to long-term Disaster Recovery, we are continuing to work with multiple partners such as The Red Cross, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Small Business Administration (SBA), and the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) to ensure that victims have access to the resources and information they need to recover. Our United Way agencies and Disaster Grant recipients are working with local disaster partners to ensure that families have basic needs met as they wait for funding sources like FEMA and insurance, have help navigating legal issues and/or questions relating to insurance and housing needs, get help covering insurance deductibles, and get assistance to fill gaps for those who were under-insured. They are helping homeowners cover costs to repair damage and offering assistance to those who need to rebuild.
We know that recovery for those who have lost so much will not happen overnight. We are working together with all our partners to collaborate and continue to assess current needs in our community so that we can collectively walk beside these neighbors, encouraging them, offering them hope, and tangibly meeting their needs until they are back on their feet.
Thank you to all of the donors, business partners, and United Way partner agencies who have so graciously and willingly joined with us in this endeavor! We are truly grateful for an amazing community of support!
We want to thank these companies for their major gift of $4,000 or more. Their generous support, as well as the support of ALL the donors who gave to this cause, is crucial in helping our communities recover and rebuild from this natural disaster.