B-Metro Storm Updates5/16/11—5/31/11
SORTING IT OUT: Crews of contractors sent to Madison County by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, including six crews from One Stop Environmental LLC of Birmingham, have begun a sorting process designed to separate harmful materials from the debris. Many homes contain dangerous substances, from gasoline and cleaning chemicals to stoves and refrigerators, which must be found and removed before hauling of debris can begin. Property owners are allowed to sort through their possessions themselves or may elect to have the environmental teams do it, but according to Corps of Engineer spokesman Billy Birdwell in a statement to Lee Roop of The Huntsville Times, the haulers and sorters are restricted to debris within 10 feet of the road.
MANS BEST FRIEND: According to an update by Jeff Hanson in The Birmingham News, a group of volunteers from New Jersey have arrived in Tuscaloosa with a group of “disaster dogs,” who are trained to ignore the clatter and distraction caused by clean-up efforts. Rather than aid in the gruesome task of recovering the dead, these dogs have been trained to help in soothing the trauma symptoms of tornado victims.
STARS KEEP FALLING: The plight of Alabama and its citizens continues to draw celebrities from around the nation to our fair state. The New York Giant’s star defensive end Justin Tuck recently arrived in Tuscaloosa with a donation of $275,000 and members of the Beach Boys and John Stamos of “Full House” fame took a tour of the damage in Madison County and talked with residents before a benefit concert for the Huntsville Hospital Foundation. While visiting the wreckage, the Beach Boys band members also played their hit song “Kokomo” for Sparkman High School students. Stamos was quoted by Victoria Cumbow of The Huntsville Times as saying he felt like he was “on the set of a disaster movie.”
BRUSH OFF THE CLOUDS: These days, Alabama is an emotionally turbulent place to be, especially if your one of the many folks who’ve had their property destroyed or have volunteered much time in the devastated areas. Even the most stoic of individuals can find their resolve tested by what lies around almost every corner in some of the hardest hit regions. To that end, The American Red Cross offers a series of tips on how to manage your own emotional health in the face of disaster, which I have paraphrased here:
- Recognize your current feelings
- Make sure you have a safe place to stay
- Maintain a balanced diet and stay hydrated
- Make sure you get rest and give your body and mind time to recuperate
- Your family and friends are an already existing support network. Make sure you reach out to them.
- Be patient with yourself and others. Everyone is stressed out!
- Don’t allow yourself to become overwhelmed. Make lists and prioritize them. Work on small tasks, one at a time.
- Stay positive. This one can be tough, but remind yourself of how you’ve gotten through tough situations in the past.
BOXING US IN: In a story for The Birmingham News, Robin DeMonia recently uncovered the fact that cable companies such as Charter and Bright House Networks are demanding that storm victims find their cable boxes or be charged for the loss, no easy task when the box may have been tossed miles away by a raging tornado. While representatives from the cable companies indicate that they will “work with” customers on a case by case basis to resolve their situations, it remains possible that some disaster victims will be forced to pay for a device they have no hope of finding.
THE BIGGEST IN HISTORY: As state Department of Insurance Chief of Staff Ragan Ingram recently told Thomas Spencer of The Birmingham News, the storms of April 27 could have a higher cost than any other natural disaster in the history of Alabama. Numbers released by Risk Management Solutions indicate that total insured losses for the entire region damaged by storms range from 3.5 billion to 6 billion dollars. Alabama contains roughly 70 percent of the area affected, which means that our share of the pie comes to somewhere between 2.45 and 4.2 billion dollars. Ragan says, “that would be the largest insured loss in state history.”
DON’T TAKE IT FOR GRANTED: Disaster victims are often overwhelmed with unexpected expenses, which is why state and federal disaster assistance grants are available in the first place. However, according to a recent release from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, those funds come with a warning that they should only be used for their intended purpose. Those who receive assistance grants are told not to be tempted to pay household bills, travel or make purchases otherwise unrelated to “needs created by the disaster.” If the applicant uses the money for an unauthorized expenditure, “no additional assistance may be granted if the need arises in the future.” The three approved uses of the funds are: housing repairs, short-term rental assistance or hotel reimbursement.
SCATTERED IDENTITY: According to a recent piece by Roy L. Williams for The Birmingham News, the many personal documents that were scattered about the state by the storms of April 27 have opened the already vulnerable pool of disaster victims to increased threat of identity theft. Victims are encouraged to ask for ID and keep personal information to themselves when dealing with strangers. Just because someone looks official doesn’t mean that they are. If victims are missing credit cards or check books, they are asked to report their loss to the appropriate financial institutions immediately and if their identities have been found compromised to place a fraud alert with all three major credit bureaus. Those numbers are as follows: Experian—(888) 397-3742; TransUnion—(800) 680-7289; and Equifax—(800) 525-6285.
QUICK PICTURE: Yesterday, I posted information about the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers efforts to begin sorting through the debris for hazardous items. FEMA has produced a handy visual guideline that should aid in finding and placing such materials so that pickup can proceed as smoothly as possible. You can see it here.
MAKING LEMONADE: When tornados tear through your town, it provides a valuable opportunity to study how they work and their effect on the areas they ravage, according to University of Alabama engineering professor John van de Lindt in a recent Birmingham News piece. Van de Lindt has spent the last 12 years studying earthquake and hurricane damage, and is part of a group at UA who are analyzing the tornado debris in an effort to find ways to make homes safer. The group received a National Science Foundation grant, which they are using to document the damage using photography. While, they concede that there really is no way to protect a wooden house from EF-4 and EF-5 level tornados, they believe the wreckage may hold clues to withstanding smaller twisters. Van de Lindt hopes that a younger generation of engineers in Alabama will be inspired by their experiences to work towards making life with tornados a safer place for all.
ALABAMA FOR ALABAMA: Many celebrities and rock stars have made their way through our scarred state since the damage was done, but there is one band in particular for whom Alabama’s plight must strike particularly close to home. I am speaking, of course, of the band Alabama. Country music’s top-selling super-group will grace the stage at an event entitled “Bama Rising: A Benefit Concert for Alabama Tornado Recovery,” to be held on June 14 at the BJCC. The concert is sponsored by Verizon, and will also host Brad Paisley, Sara Evans, Sheryl Crow, Dierks Bentley, Bo Bice, Taylor Hicks, Martina McBride and many other artists. A “Bama Rising Fund” has been set up at Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham, where decisions on how to spend funds collected at the concert will be made by an advisory committee of community members. Tickets go on sale May 20, and range from $25-$150. For more info, visit www.bamarising.org.
WHAT’S THE HOLD-UP? With the debris removal shaping up to be such a massive undertaking, the City of Birmingham is having a hard time staffing enough personnel to accomplish much, according to a story in The Birmingham News. Mayor William Bell has requested 10 million dollars to fund further work, an amount he expects to be reimbursed by the federal government. However, the Birmingham City Council has decided to delay the vote on approving the funds for one week, even though the companies that will do the work have already been hired. Their stated reason for delay was that they had no details on the parameters of the contracts they had approved one week earlier. Only Councilwoman Carole Smitherman voted to approve the funding, stating that they were getting “bogged down in the minutiae, and people want results immediately.” Whoever is in the right, let’s hope they work out their differences with some expediency, since a city of displaced citizens awaits their approval.
A DAY THAT WILL LIVE ON: The tornados of April 27 changed the face of Tuscaloosa forever. According to a report in The Tuscaloosa News, the storm-ravaged city is already finding ways to memorialize the event by asking artist Caleb O’Connor to include a depiction of the destructive storm in murals he is already in the process of creating for the walls of Tuscaloosa’s new courthouse. The courthouse, which has been under construction since late 2009, is expected to complete construction this September and will also contain murals depicting “the University of Alabama campus in flames during the Civil War, a young girl outside a Depression-era farm [and] soldiers returning from an overseas war.” O’Conner told reporter Stephanie Taylor that he intends to include in the mural a depiction of three men and the young Jamarcus Golden rescuing 67-year-old Sadie Robinson from the wreckage of her apartment building.
A LITTLE WORSE FOR WEAR: Paul Gattis recently reported for The Huntsville Times that the ever popular Lake Guntersville State Park will re-open today after keeping the gates closed for three weeks while cleaning up debris following wide-spread storm damage, including structural damage, broken trees and downed power lines. Lake Guntersville State Park is one of the major revenue producing parks in the Alabama State Park system, and is currently its most profitable park. Keeping it closed any longer could negatively impact all of the other State Parks, which rely on the funds generated from Guntersville State Park to operate.
STILL A LONG WAY TO GO: On Thursday officials announced that after three weeks of clearing debris, about 10 percent of the wreckage has been cleared, according to a story in The Birmingham News. The same officials estimate that over 10 million cubic yards of debris were dispersed across Alabama by the violent storms, an amount the director of the Alabama Emergency Management Agency, Art Faulkner, said would create a stack as large as a football field and a mile high.
CORDOVA SAYS NO: As part of its effort to help the victims of the storms, FEMA has deployed a number of mobile homes that can serve as housing for the displaced. Fox 6 is reporting that some residents are upset that none of them are in the severely damaged town of Cordova. The problem is a Cordova city ordinance prohibiting singlewide mobile homes within city limits. Apparently, doublewide trailers are allowed in certain areas, but the FEMA trailers are all singlewides. Residents claim that displaced victims cannot afford the increased costs associated with the larger doublewides. Cordova Mayor Jack Scott says he is pursuing other options, including placing people in abandoned homes, and that he is keeping the FEMA trailers out because he fears if he lets them in it will bring down property values and Cordova will become a trailer park.
LATEST AND GREATEST: The tornados of April 27, 2011 don’t have to live in our memories yet, the evidence is still all around us. However, they were not the first to sweep through Jefferson County causing death and devastation. Since 1950, four tornadoes have caused large numbers of fatalities in this county, according to a report in The Birmingham News, and all of them bear a remarkable similarity. Of the four tornadoes on record—1956, 1977, 1998 and 2011—all occurred in April and have followed a very similar path. There is no scientific proof as to why Jefferson County attracts such massive twisters, and scientists differ as to whether land cover and topography or poverty rates and rampant manufactured housing are to blame for the high mortality rates caused by these four storms.
BACK IN BUSINESS: On Friday, the Tennessee valley Authority (TVA), which operates the Brown’s Ferry Nuclear Plant in Athens, Al, powered up the Unit One reactor for the first time since the plant lost power in the storms three weeks ago. According to Brian Lawson of The Huntsville Times, tornados wrecked TVA transmission towers and power lines, and though the nuclear plant was undamaged, there was no way for it to get power into the grid. The reactors went into immediate shut-down procedures on the loss of power, and generators have been providing power to critical systems. TVA spokesman Ray Golden told Lawson that if Friday’s effort to bring the Unit One reactor online are successful that the TVA would bring the second of three reactors online in the next few days.
AN INCREDIBLE JOURNEY: Many storm victims have to deal with the additional emotional burden of not knowing what has happened to their beloved animal companions. Many pets died in the storms, and even more were flung or ran terrified from their owners and dwellings in the violent tornadoes and terrible aftermath. One Alabama woman never gave up hope, and her patience has been rewarded. Judy Pugh of Tuscaloosa tried to protect her three cats, according to a story for WFAA out of Dallas / Fort Worth. Two of her cats survived, but Judy spent every day of the next three searching for the third, named Cadie. Who knows where Cadie has been, but after almost a month of fruitless name-calling, she came waltzing back Judy, unharmed. Oh, to have a camera on that cat’s collar!
IT’S NOT JUST US: Last night, while Alabama continued recovery efforts after its own onslaught, a massive tornado tore a six mile long and half-mile wide swath through southern Missouri, killing at least 89 people and destroying a hospital when it hit the city of Joplin. Joplin fire chief Mitch Randles, whose own home was destroyed in the storm, estimates in a story for The Huffington Post that 25 to 30 percent of Joplin was damaged by the tornado, only one of 68 twisters reported across Midwestern states over the weekend. While victims of the Alabama storms are some of the last people who need fresh misery heaped upon them, we are also the folks with the keenest sense of what people in Joplin are going through right now, so keep them in your thoughts if you can.
LEADERS DEBATE—CITIZENS WAIT: While Mayor Bell and the City Council of Birmingham continue an irksome stand-off regarding how to fund storm clean-up that resulted in Governor Bentley having to reprimanded them, citizens of Pratt City have begun to voice their own frustrations, according to a story in The Birmingham News. More than one resident was bothered by the continuing presence of large piles of debris still waiting for pick-up in front of most houses in the Pratt City neighborhoods affected by the storm. The delay is largely due to a disagreement over who should be hired to do the clean-up. Mayor Bell has asked for 10 million dollars in advance funding to hire outside contractors to do the work, while the City Council wants to hire the Army Corps of Engineers. The Council is set to vote again Tuesday on approving Bell’s request for funding, so hopefully there will be some kind of a resolution then.
FINDING FURRIES: Reuters is reporting that because of the large number of pets displaced by tornadoes and flooding in the Southeast, animal shelters in the affected region are being pushed to their limits to accommodate the increase in homeless pets. The Metro Animal Shelter in Tuscaloosa has seen its animal population double in the last four weeks, and many of the kennels at the Birmingham-Jefferson County Animal Control are holding as many as four animals each. According to the story, many shelters have made emergency policy changes that will allow them to keep the pets past normal limits. The Birmingham-Jefferson County Animal Control shelter normally euthanizes animals if they are not adopted within seven days, but has stated that they will not euthanize or adopt out any of the “tornado” dogs or cats. Shelter adoption and rescue coordinator Phil Doster estimated that about 40 percent of the shelter’s rescues have been reclaimed.
ALABAMA REACHES OUT: Alabama has been the benefit of a huge out-pouring of support and relief over the last three weeks, and some folks are returning the favor by sending supplies to the town of Joplin, Mo., which was devastated by a giant tornado on Sunday evening. The Facebook group Toomer’s for Tuscaloosa has organized a truck to transport water, diapers, baby food and other supplies from Alabama to the injured Midwest town., according to a story on Fox 6. The truck was set up at 5 p.m. Monday evening at the Wal-Mart on Highway 280 near Inverness/Brook Highland, took donations until this morning and is now on its way to Joplin.
SHARE-ON: The website DailyDealMedia.com is reporting that Sharing Spree, a daily deal site similar to Groupon that donates part of every purchase made through its service to schools and non-profit organizations, will be launching in Birmingham and donating 100 percent of its proceeds from the first deal to help victims of the storms of April 27. From May 23-30 anyone wishing to participate will be able to see any movie at The Edge 12 Theatre in Crestwood for under five dollars. Sharing Spree will donate 100% of its portion of the purchased ticket to the American Red Cross. In order to participate in the deal, you must sign up at www.sharingspree.com.
WHAT CAN BROWN DO FOR ITSELF: The damage caused by the tornadoes has brought out the best in the many people who have donated time and energy to helping those affected by the disaster, but it has also exposed some for the scumbags they truly are. Case in point: the owner and employee of a UPS store in Johns Creek, Ga., who stole 50 Target gift cards which had been donated for tornado relief, as reported by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The cards were intended to be mailed at the UPS store by Kristi Baily as generous donation to her hometown of Tuscaloosa, but when the box arrived with no cards inside, she went to Target, who tracked down surveillance video of the UPS store owner and employee going on a spending spree. Just another reason to keep your guard up for scammers. Anyone with info on nefarious characters taking advantage of vulnerable storm victims should call the Disaster Fraud Hotline at (225) 334-4707 or email email@example.com.
FINDERS, GIVERS: An untold number of important documents, family pictures and other sentimental pieces of paper were scattered across the state by vicious tornadoes, and most will never be returned to their owners. However, all hope is not lost. According to The Birmingham News, Patty Bullion of Lester in Limestone County has organized a Facebook page called Pictures and Documents found after the April 27, 2011 Tornadoes, and has already managed to connect hundreds of the scattered documents with their former owners. Bullion started the page when she found the ultrasound of a baby in her backyard and since then the page has accumulated 103,900 people who like it.
THE HITS KEEP ON COMING: Right on the heels of last Sundays devastating storm in Joplin, Mo., a fresh set of storms spawned a series of tornados that have killed at least 14 people and damaged homes in the Oklahoma City area, as well as in Kansas and Arkansas. With approximately 1000 tornadoes and almost 500 dead, 2011 is shaping up to be the deadliest and costliest tornado season to date, according to an article for The Washington Post. Numbers like that have scientists asking whether climate-change has anything to do with the increased number of twisters, but there is no conclusive evidence either way. Though scientists have demonstrated the trend for climate change to affect the frequency of other natural disasters, such as heat waves and floods, there is no data to support similar behavior from tornadoes. Certainly, an amount of bad luck has contributed to the staggering death toll that has already risen from this season, but perhaps with some good luck we might glean new information that will save lives in the future while studying these remarkable events.
OUT OF TRACTION: Yesterday, the Birmingham City Council finally approved three private companies to be hired to execute debris clean-up on public property in Pratt City, according to a report in The Birmingham News. DRC Emergency Services of Mobile, Southeast Renewables and Malcolm Pirnie were the three companies awarded contract. Following the vote to approve funds, the council then passed a resolution asking Mayor William Bell to use the Army Corps of Engineers to clear debris from private property. Despite the resolution, Mayor Bell said he would pursue a fourth private company instead, citing Mississippi Congressman Bennie G. Thompson’s poor review of the Corps when it came to including minority groups.
EXTRA HELP FROM UNCLE SAM: In the wake of the many devastating events our country has experienced over the last month, the U.S. House of Representatives have approved a one billion dollar aid package to make sure federal disaster relief funds don’t run out, according to a story by the Associated Press. The additional funds are meant not only to help recently damaged areas, but also to assure the continued recovery efforts for past disasters like hurricane Katrina.
ARE YOU READY? So you escaped the latest rash of violent tornadoes, and are thanking your lucky stars that it’s not your personal effects strewn across the state. You’ve donated time, money and canned goods to the recovery effort and all of your friends and family are accounted for. Think you’re good to go? Think again. Who knows when the next string of disasters will strike? To that end, FEMA continues to offer free consultations at local home improvement and hardware stores. FEMA specialists will be on hand to answer questions and offer tips and techniques to reduce future storm damage for the handyman and small business contractor. There will also be literature available on how to build a safe room. Locally, the advisers will be available from 7 a.m.-7 p.m., Monday-Saturday, and 8 a.m.-6 p.m. on Sunday at the Lowe’s on Edwards Lake Rd. and Warrior Ace Hardware on Caldwell Drive.
ARTISTS FOR ALABAMA: As I reported in this week’s Birmingham Weekly, local artists John Lytle Wilson and Wes Frazer have organized a benefit exhibit entitled “REBUILD Alabama,” tonight at ACME Gallery on Second Ave. North and 13th Street. The exhibit will feature over 80 artists, including the acclaimed Alabama artist William Christenberry. All proceeds from art sold at the event will be donated to Habitat for Humanity, and there will be a live auction at 7 p.m. with a selection of exhibited works up for bid, including the Christenberry. Impromptu live music will be provided by Taylor Hollingsworth, Henry Dunkle, Sanders Bohlke, Duquette Johnston and The Great Book of John. Refreshments will be provided by Rojo. The opening reception is from 5-9 p.m. and the exhibit will run through June 24.
UNCOVERED AND VULNERABLE: Data analyzed by the Associated Press has revealed that a number of the states that have received the most damage from this year’s deadly tornado season also have some of the nation’s highest rates of homes without hazard insurance, according to a report on al.com. This means that the regions most in need of hazard insurance are the ones who lack it the most, and also that the burden on the federal government for assistance will be higher, given the large number of uninsured people who will be unable to get compensation for their losses.
DENIAL VS. INELEGABLE: FEMA is encouraging any people who applied for disaster relief and received a letter of denial or ineligibility to contact them if there are any questions, according to a story in The Birmingham News. In many cases, the letter is only the first step in a longer process which involves appealing for a review. FEMA is not allowed to duplicate benefits that you get from your insurance company, but the initial finding of ineligibility can change, especially if your insurance turns out to not cover the full extent of your damage. As of yesterday, 75,580 people had applied for disaster relief and 22,200 had been declared inelegable, almost twice the number—11,500—of people who have received cash grants. The total number of funds awarded at this point stands at 54.7 million dollars.
THOSE…GENEROUS…YANKEES: Tuscaloosa native and University of Alabama alum David Robertson may be a relief pitcher for the New York Yankees, but that relief usually comes in the form of blisteringly fast strikes. Now, however, he’s delivering relief in another form by creating a foundation with his wife to raise money to help his storm-torn home town, according to a story in The New York Daily News. Robertson’s new foundation is called High Socks For Hope, and though the web-page is just a temporary landing page with basic information right now, apparently in addition to collecting donations, Robertson intends to donate $100 for every strikeout he records this season. He returned home yesterday during a scheduled off-day to survey the damage to his old stomping grounds, and to look for places where money donated to his foundation might best be put to use.
HOMEWARD BOUND: It’s been a whole month since disaster came to visit us, and pets are still miraculously finding their ways back their owners with whatever magical sense of direction nature has imbued them with. A recent story for The Huffington Post chronicled the story of a dog named Mason, who was picked up and tossed from where he was hiding in a garage. Though both of the dogs legs were broken, he managed to crawl back to his owners over the course of two and a half weeks. That must have been a harrowing journey for one of the most faithful companion’s I’ve ever heard of! Mason is now in the care of a veterinarian who offered to take on the dog while his owners recover from their own storm damage.
ASSISTANCE YOU DON’T WANT: Though the government sued last year to have the illegally operating Shoal Creek Valley Assisted Living near Ashville, Al. shut down, it remained operational when it was struck directly by an EF-4 tornado, killing four of the nine residents as well as the owner of the facility, Ronnie Isbell and his daughter-in-law and 7-year-old granddaughter. According to a story by the Associated Press, the lawsuit was delayed when the Judge overseeing the case recused himself. The government suit has been dismissed due to Isbell’s death, but a second suit over the mistreatment of a resident in Isbell’s care remains active against his estate.
GRADUATION SURPRISE: Graduating seniors at Hackleburg High School, which was severely damaged by tornadoes, were treated to a surprise visit from Governor Robert Bentley on Friday night, according to a report by CBS 42. Bentley presented the members of the graduating class, many of whom were dressed in t-shirts and flip-flops, with certificates proclaiming their bravery and perseverance since the storms of April 27. Addressing the class, Bentley encouraged them by saying they would be stronger because of their trials and “closer because of what they had to go through.”
DANGER LURKS: As the month anniversary of these devastating storms passes, we are beginning to see clean patches where debris has been totally cleared. Things are not so easy to clean up in the many lakes and rivers of Alabama, says a story in The Birmingham News. Alabama Marine Police are warning Memorial Day weekend revelers to keep a watchful eye for submerged debris, especially near Lake Martin and Lake Neely, which could put a swift end to any fun said party-goers might be having. According to statements in the piece by Lt. Erica Shipman, some hazards have been marked with buoys, but boaters should drive slowly enough to avoid unexpected obstacles and swimmers should not dive into murky waters. She also cautioned anyone wading to be careful of sharp debris such as nails and glass.
WAITING IS FRUSTRATING: Fultondale Mayor Jim Lowery is blaming unnecessary red-tape on FEMA’s part as the reason why cleanup of the some 500 residences damaged by storms in his town have yet to be cleared. According to a story in The Birmingham News, the issue is a “right of entry” form, without which the government is not legally allowed to set foot on damaged private property. It took 15 days for agency lawyers to settle on a final version of the form, with the crux of the debate over what constituted as debris and which specific circumstances would warrant demolition. The form, which is standard but changes frequently in the face of legal review, is now settled, but Fultondale City Attorney Charlie Waldrep is quoted in the piece as saying, “FEMA, I think they are supposed to be experts at disasters, aren’t they? You would think they would know what forms to use and tell us what to do.”
PUSHING IT BACK: FEMA has granted Governor Bentley’s request for an extension and expansion to Operation Clean Sweep, the program responsible for debris removal in storm-damaged areas, according to a story in The Birmingham News. FEMA has agreed to a 30 day extension, which would push back the operation end date to July 12. Additionally, FEMA will now cover 90 percent of all debris removal operations, including work done by private contractors. Initially, FEMA only covered 90 percent of the removal costs incurred by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. This means that cities and counties that opted to use private contractors, such as the city of Birmingham, will also now receive 90 percent coverage, instead of the 75 percent they were previously receiving.
FOUL FEATHER WEATHER: When the storms of April 27 came tearing through Alabama, they hit the poultry farming industry in North Alabama particularly hard, reports The Birmingham News. Poultry farms are considered commercial operations, and are therefore not eligible for debris removal help from FEMA, though the report says that Alabama agriculture commissioner John McMillan is working to get clean-up assistance via other avenues. Over 700 poultry houses were damaged and 3.2 million chickens killed in the storms. Many of those houses were highly automated affairs that cost around 400,000 dollars to build, and some farmers without insurance are choosing not to rebuild, rather than take on the exorbitant costs.
IT’S NOT OUR FAULT: The local economies of storm-ravaged areas have struggled in the wake of factory-closings and disrupted energy systems but, according to a story by the Associated Press, it isn’t affecting the already struggling U.S. economy very much. In the piece, Wells Fargo economist Mark Vitner estimates that, at most, the disasters would cause the national economic growth to dip by one-tenth of one percent, though others caution that further disasters could cause a greater impact.
HOMELAND HAS A LOOK-SEE: The storm-battered town of Hacklesburg got a visit from United States Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano on Sunday, according to a report in The Birmingham News. FEMA is a part of Homeland Security, and Napolitano is quoted in the piece as saying, “This will be a marathon, not a sprint,” and that FEMA will be in Alabama for the “long haul.” Napolitano was accompanied on her trip to Hacklesburg, which also included a helicopter tour over the town, by U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt, who recently sponsored a bill to add one billion dollars to FEMA’s disaster response funds. Napolitano also visited a volunteer staging center and stopped by Hacklesburg’s severely damaged school campus where she met with the recent graduating class’ Valedictorian and Salutatorian.
A LONG WAY FROM HOME: The Associated Press is reporting that a wedding photo, blown 120 miles from a flattened house in Hacklesburg to a yard in Tupelo, Ms., is now on its way back to its owners. Mike and Frieda Evans, who were married in 1982, were contacted by a family friend after the friend saw the picture published in The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal. The precious image is now on its way back to the Evans family, who are staying with their daughter in Hamilton.
DEADLIER THAN THOU: When you think of the classic Hollywood twister, you think of a lonely funnel meandering across the flatlands, picking off a farmhouse here or there. Tornado Alley, the tornado-prone area spanning from north Texas through Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, eastern South Dakota and eastern Colorado, is often the home of such a scene. Our recent experience here in Alabama speaks to another reality, where tornados kill masses of people at a time. According to a report in The Birmingham News, in the equally tornado-prone Southeast, sometimes known as Dixie Alley, tornadoes are much deadlier due to the increased likelihood that they will hit populated areas. Additionally, tornados in Tornado Alley are usually seasonal, while weather conditions in the Southeast can create tornadoes year round and usually hit at night when people are more vulnerable. A recent study (based on tornado frequency and path) cited in the report names the spot most likely to get hit by a tornado as an area just southeast of Jackson, Ms.
SOCIAL DISASTER: Social media has already proven itself to be an invaluable tool for the dissemination of information in real-time during a crisis. Facebook and especially Twitter became stars over-night when they were used successfully to help organize the peaceful protests that eventually toppled the Egyptian government and kicked off the Arab Spring. According to a story in The Birmingham News, social media is having just as immediate and strong an impact on the tornado damaged areas of Alabama. Since the storms hit, a torrent of Facebook pages have been created to aid victims in one way or another. Some became hubs for victims to communicate with each other and memorialize the lost, while others have more specific roles, like returning scattered documents to their owners. Veteran forecaster James Spann used his Twitter account (@spann) to pass on updates from his many thousands of followers, and created a set of “hashtags” to help organize the information into usable categories. While you may not know what a hashtag is, one thing is certain—if the use of social media continues to evolve in this way, it can only help us respond more efficiently to next big disaster.
DON’T FORGET: One month after disastrous storms struck Alabama, the number of volunteers in our state who are helping to clear away debris and aid victims has begun to drop. Brian Wallace, the director of public relations for the Salvation Army in Birmingham, said in a report by The Birmingham News that “in the past two weeks or so we’ve seen the (volunteer) numbers decline. This past week it kind of plummeted.” Hands on Birmingham, a service which connects volunteers with opportunities to help, reports that its volunteer registration numbers are down from 1000 volunteers a day to just 20 or 30 a day. That still leaves a good pool of already registered volunteers to draw from, and thanks to an increase in corporate volunteers most victims’ needs are continuing to be met. Still, it is clear that going forward there will be less people to help out Alabama through its recovery period.
SCARY, BUT NOT SO SCARY: The Associated Press is reporting that checks done after the crisis in Japan show that many U.S. nuclear power facilities, including the facility at Brown’s Ferry in Alabama, are not completely tornado-safe. While the critical infrastructure is protected at all of the plants, in many cases the support systems for the plants were not housed in disaster-proof structures. At Brown’s Ferry, storms took out the warning sirens, and at one point during the storm only 12 of the 100 sirens in the area surrounding the plant were operational. If there had been a crisis at the plant, the report indicated that plant officials would have had to use telephones and loudspeakers on trucks to alert nearby residents. It is comforting to know, however, that measures are being taken to prevent such an outage in the future, and that in past events where storms hit a nuclear plant, no major crisis has unfolded.