Millington Mayor Richard Hodges talks with Sen. Lamar Alexander while touring flood-damaged areas Monday in Millington. Also there were Sen. Bob Corker, interim Shelby County Mayor Joe Ford, state Rep. G.A. Hardaway and Bob Nations of the county Office of Preparedness.
Following a tour of flood recovery efforts in Millington on Monday, Tennessee's two U.S. senators were the guests of honor at a city hall meeting where all levels of government and volunteers found praise.
Republican Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker joined in complimenting federal, state and local government responses to flooding that struck Middle and West Tennessee with torrential rains that began April 30.
Alexander called it the worst natural disaster in the U.S. since the Obama administration took office in 2009.
One of the reasons it didn't make as much national news as some other past disasters did "is that from Middle Tennessee all the way down to the Mississippi River, Tennesseans were helping each other and cleaning up, instead of looting and complaining," he said.
In contrast to the criticism that the Federal Emergency Management Agency drew after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast in 2005, Alexander and others gave the agency high marks for its response in Tennessee.
"I'd like to compliment FEMA for doing a good job," Alexander said.
Both senators spread the praise to local and state government responses to the disaster.
Alexander, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, also pointed to federal funding increases that he, Corker and other members of Tennessee's federal delegation are supporting in Congress to help recover from the disaster. Forty-two of 95 counties have been declared areas eligible for disaster relief.
They include adding $5.1 billion in funding for FEMA and increasing the federal share of FEMA assistance to governments to repair public buildings, roads and bridges to 90 percent from 75 percent in the flood-stricken states of Tennessee and Rhode Island.
In addition, $72 million in federal aid is being sought for flood damage at the Naval Support Activity Mid-South base in Millington, as well as $49 million for economic development and $100 million in Community Development Block Grant funds for the state.
After touring the FEMA Disaster Recovery Center at the Millington Civic Center and areas hit by flooding, Alexander praised the efforts of scores of volunteers from a list of churches led by Larry Silvey, a 69-year-old homebuilder, developer and Millington First Baptist Church deacon. They are providing free labor to repair flooded residences.
Contacted later, Silvey said he gives the praise to his Lord and Savior.
"It's not about us," Silvey said, but rallying to help one another.
Responding to questions later about politics and financial reform, Corker criticized out-of-control spending in Washington and over-reaching government.
"Obviously there are times like this when people depend upon government, and that's when government should come to the rescue," Corker said.
Monday's visit was the first by the senators since the flooding on May 1. They toured Nashville on May 4.
"I live in Nashville," Alexander said. "I can guarantee you that all parts of this state ... will be getting the same kind of attention."
Millington Mayor Richard Hodges said the senators' staff had been in touch immediately.
"I forgot to mention," Alexander added moments later. "The reason I went to Nashville was to get four feet of water out of my basement."