Gatlinburg resident Michael Dean Cato shows off the exterior of his almost completed home in Chalet Village on a mountaintop in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. The steps to the upper level were crafted from a poplar tree that was salvaged from the wildfire destruction. Bob Wallace/American Red Cross
Disaster recovery is often measured in months and years. As survivors put their lives back together, the Red Cross has worked alongside our recovery partners to help them make recovery plans, aid with pressing needs and locate available resources from government, nonprofit and community organizations.
This assistance made a real difference for the Cato family, which lives in the Chalet Village area high in the Great Smoky Mountains. Michael Dean, Christy and their children, 14-year-old Brady and 4-year-old Corbyn, narrowly escaped the wildfires. They had been concerned about the smoky conditions, knowing that there were active wildfires in the area. Then, just before dark, flames appeared on the ridge above their home.
Grabbing just a few possessions, the family quickly climbed into their vehicles and fled just as the back of their cabin was consumed by flames. The fire pursued them down the mountainside until, two harrowing hours later, they finally made it to Christy’s mother’s home in Sevierville. Returning days later, they found utter destruction. “Christy was at first convinced that we were at the wrong place,” said Dean. “There was nothing left.”
“Our home was underinsured by about $140,000,” said Dean. But with a strong sense of determination and help from the Red Cross, disaster relief partners like Mountain Tough and the Dolly Parton Foundation, FEMA, a local Boy Scout troop, plus friends and family, Dean has nearly finished rebuilding. “We are going to move back in by Thanksgiving…I hope to have it finished by the end of the year,” said Dean. “We had no choice,” he added. “This is our home.”
As part of our recovery efforts, the Red Cross also joined with local recovery partners to help with unmet needs in affected communities. For example, we joined with the Rotary club to provide financial assistance to the Helen Ross McNabb Center, which has offered emotional support and counseling for wildfire survivors.
Jerry Wear, the Rotary Club Unmet Needs Committee Chair, explained that they needed more funding due to the number of cases they were seeing. “Thank you so much for the large grant…to help meet the pressing needs of the fire families,” he said.