Tornado construction bolsters an industry’s recovery
by Laura Johnson
lbjohnson@annistonstar.com
Sep 26, 2011 | 6752 views |  0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A new home is seen under construction on Mt. Gilead Road in Webster’s Chapel last week. (Anniston Star photo by Bill Wilson)
A new home is seen under construction on Mt. Gilead Road in Webster’s Chapel last week. (Anniston Star photo by Bill Wilson)
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Driving on roads through the tornado-torn strip of northwest Calhoun County today yields scenes of contrast.

Acres of trees twisted and broken by the tornadoes stand near wide expanses of freshly leveled ground, smooth and cleared of the storm’s refuse.

Homes with sagging roof lines and missing windows are within view of new homes and trailers that have appeared in the areas claimed by the EF4 twister that destroyed parts of the county in April.

Life isn’t back to normal for residents there, but the view is becoming more tolerable to some as new homes crop up to replace the rubble. Built with insurance money and government–secured loans, the emerging residences are also providing jobs to one of the most economically depressed industries in the country — construction.

“I have talked to a couple of builders who said it’s pretty much got them back to going again,” said Garry Angle, a local builder.

Business isn’t booming for the local construction industry, however; it’s just improved some since the need for new structures arose from the destruction, he said. Contractors said they never wanted jobs to come to them from devastation, but some said they have had about twice as much work to do since the recovery process began.

“Before it was a struggle just to get by every week,” David Kelly, who installs drywall, said. “We’re just now starting to pick back up.”

Two other construction crewmen said before the recovery they were lucky to get a 30-hour work week. Since, they’ve been working 40 hours each week.

“It definitely made a big difference there’s not doubt about it,” home builder Tony Porco said.

Construction is also picking up in other tornado-damaged areas of the state. A report compiled by the Center for Business at the University of Alabama states that Alabamians will spend between $2.6 and $4.2 billion dollars on rebuilding.

The rebuilding phase will pump an estimated $1 billion into the state in 2011, the report states. The remainder will be spent in 2012.

“You don’t want to think you made your living off someone else’s troubles… but when it comes somebody’s got to do it,” Porco said.

The report assumes the rebuilding will continue through the next year. Local contractors like David Kelly want it to pay the bills through Christmas.

“We’re just hoping it will carry us through the winter,” Kelly said.

The construction crewmen working 40 hours a week said they might be able to put in more hours, but they’re pacing themselves. They don’t want the work to run out.

Porco said the storm recovery effort has provided area contractors with repair and reconstruction work since the spring, but it hasn’t erased the effects of the housing bust. Last year he built about 10 homes. This year he might build 14. But before the bust, he said he built between 18 and 20 each year.

And, not all of the work is being completed by contractors. Much of it has been done by volunteers.

Williams Baptist Church is building about a dozen homes for uninsured people in the community. Most of those homes are built with help from volunteers and with contractors working at reduced rate.

Much of the work is also repair or remodel work. Fewer are new construction jobs.

And there are plenty of home builders and contractors to do the work. About 50 were listed on the website for Home Builders Association of Greater Calhoun County.

“It did generate a little bit of work,” home builder Clyde Huckeba said. “Any work was welcome. We hate that it took a storm to get some people some work.”

Star staff writer Laura Johnson: 256-235-3544.
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