“I have toured the area first hand with FEMA director Joe Allbaugh and there was no doubt in his mind that our area would qualify for federal assistance,” said Congressman Aderholt. “These storms have had an incredible impact on our communities. I had a chance to talk to several individuals in the area who were hit hard by the storm but who certainly need some assistance. I’m pleased that this federal agency can provide a lending hand.”
Counties eligible to apply for Public Assistance include Cherokee, Cullman, Fayette and Walker. Victims eligible to apply for individual assistance include those in Blount, Cherokee, Cullman, Dekalb, Etowah, Fayette, Franklin, Lamar, Lawrence, Marion, Marshall, Pickens, Walker and Marion Counties. All counties are eligible to apply for hazard mitigation assistance.
Earlier in the week, state and local Emergency Management Agency teams toured those areas of Cherokee County ravaged by storm Alabama Emergency Management Agency Director Lee Helms and others were present to do the damage assessments.
Scott Adcock, with AEMA, declined to make any predictions at that time as to what if anything Cherokee County could expect in terms of federal and state disaster assistance. He did state, however, that things were moving along faster than expected on this matter.
“We’re working with the local officials, giving as much assistance as we can,” said Adcock. “Of course, the damage assessment teams are in place and will be here today. I don’t want to be too premature at this time until we get the damage assessments in. There’s a lot of damage in Cherokee County, Walker County, Cullman County, Fayette County and some others. Our damage assessment teams are moving along at a faster pace than we had anticipated so we hope to be in a position pretty soon to know where we can go from here.”
“We’ve got teams in about four counties now,” said Helms. “We had additional damage reports yesterday from Blount County, St. Clair and Jefferson Counties, and now we have a total of about nine or 10 we are looking at. They are moving along rapidly, but they’ve got to be thorough. We’ve got to see every house, business and all of the public property damage and do estimates on the cleanup and debris removal. We hope to be finished tomorrow evening or Friday morning at the latest.”
Helms said monetary figures were not the top priority at this time.
“We are more concerned about the number of homes that are unlivable and what the victims’ needs are,” said Helms. “Do they need temporary housing? What are their long-term plans? How many uninsured losses are there? We are focusing on that so we can determine what the long-term impact will be. We will then give that information to the Governor and he will ask the President for help. It’s more of an idea of just what is the impact to the community and to the individual families and business owners at this stage rather than a dollar value. We will do a dollar value estimate on the public property. We will estimate what it costs to clean up, what the costs are to repair public facilities, including buildings, roads, bridge, whatever they may be and the cost to local government to respond. That will be the dollar estimate on the public side. On the individual side we are more concerned about what the victims’ needs are.”
John Bates with the Cherokee County Highway Department said crews worked to get roads cleared where utility and other vehicles can get through in the affected areas. He asked about possible assistance with this project. Helms pledged the assistance and support of Alabama EMA.
“Let’s use two different scenarios,” said Helms. “If we get a major declaration, then we will have state and federal money to help with contracting to haul this stuff off and finish cleaning up. If it doesn’t work, we’ll put a combination of volunteer labor, inmate labor, whatever it takes to help you finish cleaning up. You are probably going to get some federal and state help on that.”
Alabama Representative to the Alabama Legislature Richard Lindsey, whose family business received huge losses because of the storm asked about the next step to take once disaster assistance is approved.
“We’re going to work with Probate Judge Phillip Jordan and EMA Director Leon Smith,” said Helms. “That would be after the governor makes a request and the president declares a disaster. Then we would look for a facility as close as we could get to the affected areas where we would have state and federal agents present so victims could come talk to them. Once it is declared, there will be a registration number announced. Then they can come to this center, which we would call a disaster recovery center, and talk one-on-one with all the agencies, including SBA, FEMA for temporary housing or grant assistance, insurance people. There will be different state agencies.”
By Friday morning, FEMA officials had already set up shop at the site of John’s Groceries at the intersection of County Road 16 and 22, said Leon Smith, director, Cherokee County Emergency Management Agency.
“The figure we turned in was around $176,000 for debris removal by the county highway department and another $200,000 for Cherokee Electric Cooperative,” said Smith. “The total cost will probably be in the neighborhood of $400,000. On our final survey, we had 113 total homes (residences) that were affected. That doesn’t include all of the campers. Of that, we have 55 homes, which have been determined as destroyed, and there’s a good number that are heavily damaged. Some of the heavier damaged homes may be deemed destroyed when the insurance companies look at it. This is by people who are not construction-minded. We do know that if the roof is off and everything, it is considered destroyed. It will be a minimum of 55 homes destroyed, mobile homes and houses. We have insurance companies who have already responded and taken care of their people.”
Smith estimated that the federal government would take care of about 75 percent of the cleanup cost, with the state picking up 10 percent. The remaining 15 percent will be paid locally, Smith said.
Helms commended local efforts following the late Sunday evening storm.
“It looks like you all have done a lot,” said Helms. “It looks there’s been a big support from the community to get the roads passable and it looks like local officials have done an excellent job keeping things the best they can be under these circumstances. We’ve worked through these storms before the most recent one. We are going to get through this. We will stay in there with you as long as we need to, until we get it as back to normal as possible.”
“I would say that one of the positive things for Cherokee County is that all of our people have had the experience of working through these things,” said Smith. “We don’t have to second-guess anything. We pretty well know which direction to go in and that goes for Rep. Richard Lindsey, Phillip Jordan, John Bates, myself and even Lee Helms. This is the third major storm that we’ve had in Cherokee County. We had the Goshen storm, the Sand Rock storm last year and then this storm this year. All of these people have worked through every one of those and have that experience, so I think that it is a big plus in our coming to a speedy recovery and getting everything that is available to our people.”
Those who need temporary housing, Helms said, should contact American Red Cross at (256)927-3797.
Victims may contact FEMA at 1-800-621-FEMA for more information