Wise, like many other area residents, is worried that if he leaves home, burglars will come.
Wise has been camping outside his home in a trailer and tents and receiving assistance from the Big Oak Fire Department and FEMA.
The night after the storm, Wise said that he left his house to help a neighbor. When he returned, he found his basement doors had been propped open with sticks and his flashlight was on. Wise couldn’t tell if anyone had stolen anything because he didn’t know what he had.
Wise’s friends Charlie Dover and James Holmes were helping Wise pack up his possessions.
“A guy in a white Toyota truck has been getting copper,” Dover said. “My cousin got pulled over, he has a white Toyota. They thought it was him.”
Theft of copper wiring and tubes has been an ongoing problem in Calhoun County, and some residents refuse to leave their homes in order to protect their property while they rebuild.
Wise said he noticed people leaving the area at night, possibly taking pieces of scrap metal that were once part of his and his neighbors’ homes.
Dover called the thefts “heartless,” and said that it’s scary to hear about even if it’s just scrap metal being taken.
“It’s crazy how somebody can do it,” he said.
Calhoun County Sheriff Larry Amerson said the Sheriff’s Office received three reports of theft in the area of Ohatchee with tornado damage. Eight deputies per shift have monitored the area since the tornado.
“There’s continuing complaints of theft in the area, but we’re not seeing those reports,” Amerson said.
Jane Lamb, who lives across the street from Wise, said she also chose not to leave her home because of the possibility of theft, even though the insurance company told her family to move out of the house. They have been approved to stay in the living room and kitchen, where they still have power.
“They’ve arrested a lot of people,” Lamb said. Lamb has most of her family’s possessions packed up because, she said, people were picking up wood and tin without asking permission.
“A lot of people take advantage,” Lamb said. “I hope they catch every one of them because you work hard and then that happens.”
Lamb said she tries to sit on the front porch to let people know they’re home and haven’t left.
Other residents with homes that can’t be lived in chose to leave their property and store possessions that had survived the storm.
Frank Coheley, whose father lives off Highway 77 on Neely Henry Lake, came from Buffalo, N.Y., as soon as he could to help his parents clean up and rebuild.
The Coheley family has been staying at a vacation home one of the volunteers donated for them for the duration of their renovations.
Coheley said that the only thing he was aware of that had been stolen in the neighborhood was an air conditioning unit.
“My dad had a volunteer help him, and when my dad asked how he could repay him, the volunteer asked for the copper in the house,” Coheley said. “Then another guy just came up and asked for it, but I told him it was gone.”
Added Coheley: “That’s the kind of situation where they come back at three in the morning to make sure it’s not there.”
Coheley said the mayor had been in the area and that law enforcement was aware of the situation.
Henry Douthitt, who lives on Gilbert’s Ferry Road, said he feels comfortable staying with friends in Oxford because the police have kept a steady patrol of the area.
Douthitt came back to his home one evening to feed his horse after dark and heard a police officer pull up.
“I saw him go [for his gun] and I took my flashlight and said ‘hey,’” Douthitt said. “If it was me out here, I wouldn’t take chances. There’s some crazy, crazy people out there that don’t care about nothing or nobody.”
Douthitt and his family have lived on the same 15-acre area since 1944, and he has no plans of leaving.
“If the Lord blesses me, I’m going to rebuild.”
Staff writer Brian Anderson contributed reporting.