The last time Mayor Ronnie and I met was the morning of the storm, and I subsequently took the liberty of “pre-thanking” everyone in our area on his behalf. For this interview, as I knew he would, he went quickly to describing the remarkable job done by all of our first responders, and that includes the Utilities crews. We talked about how disasters are very much like combat zones, and he told me, “Agencies came in to work, and convoyed out, working nearly around the clock. In 8 days, we went from 16,000 people being out of power to, [as of Monday, May 12th,] less than 50.” He also added that the outpouring of love and appreciation for all that had been done in the aftermath of the storm had been “unbelievable.” Counties from all over pitched in and helped. I know for my part, getting the Nixle updates on the progress was so encouraging. The last text that said they were down to only 50 customers caused me to cheer!
He continued with the observation that “If you take a breath, you can see where you are, and you can see what God does,” and there is much to be thankful for, even while facing the challenges of digging out. “We actually have more debris to deal within the city limits of Athens than we had in 2011.” By “more,” we are talking about 75,000 cubic yards of debris! He estimated that it is going to take 60 to 90 days to complete the cleanup project. Clean up comes out of the General Fund, and is estimated to be around 1 million dollars. He summed up his own thankfulness for how hard people had worked, and how much we had been spared.
“Whenever there is a disaster, there are several sides to the recovery process,” he sai There is the emotional side, where we serve, clean up, and move things out of the way so people can rebuild their lives,” he said. “Then there is the documentation side, which is HUGE.” All of the movements, work, hours, resources and equipment used to get things back online have to be accounted for, down to the penny. The last part is the funding side, and the administrative responsibilities are great as well. “People don’t realize that clean up is so much more than getting trees out of the road.”
One of the things that helps a community regain its balance after a disaster is doing things that are part of “normal” life. This weekend we have the Sheriff’s Rodeo, and, added Mayor Ronnie, “We still have proms and graduations.” Then he showed me something that had made his day. One of the kids from the Mayor’s Youth Commission sent him an invitation to a 16th birthday party. “A 16 year old kid inviting a 69 year old man to their birthday party, it just don’t get better than that,” he said with his characteristic joy and resilience. And that, dear citizens of Athens, is some of what makes Ronnie roll.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner