JACKSONVILLE — Calhoun County officials on Monday said they believed every storm-damaged house had been visited by debris cleanup crews.
That came as news to some residents in the storm zone.
“That stuff has been piled by the street since the Saturday after the storm,” said Linda Beavers, pointing out a mound of brush in front of her 11th Avenue home.
Monday marked one month since an EF-3 tornado struck Jacksonville, damaging more than 500 buildings in the city, most of them residences. The city has since settled into a new normal. Residents drive to school and work on streets lined by hedgerows of broken limbs, sharing the street with debris trucks. Streetlights on fresh utility poles shine down on blue-tarped roofs. A month ago there was a hurry to clear driveways and patch roofs; now, for many residents, there’s a wait.
Gov. Kay Ivey on Thursday formally asked for federal assistance for four Alabama counties affected by the March 19 tornado outbreak, Ivey’s staff announced in a press release.
Officials have said many times that cleanup will take months, but the county’s cleanup contractor, DRC Emergency Services, was expected to complete its first sweep of the city by the end of last week. Every storm-damaged house, county officials said, could expect at least one load of debris to be taken away.
On Monday, county engineer Brian Rosenbalm said he’d received a text message on Saturday assuring him that the first sweep was complete.
“The first pass of debris pickup should be complete,” Rosenbalm said. He said that work might not be obvious to passers-by, because homeowners may be pushing new debris to the curb. County officials have said that DRC can reach only the debris within 10 feet of the road, and will have to make multiple runs.
But for residents who’ve been looking at the same mounds of garbage for weeks, it’s clear that some streets haven’t seen a crew yet.
“I saw them for the first time this morning,” said Eighth Avenue resident Taylor Casey, “They picked up a recliner I had out there and moved it to the other side of the driveway.” Casey said workers hadn’t touched the piles of limbs and branches in front of his house at all.
Casey said he believed the recliner move might be a precursor to a pickup. City and county officials have been urging people to separate vegetation from demolition debris. Rosenbalm said DRC began picking up some demolition debris over the weekend; the first pass was just for trunks and branches.
Attempts to reach DRC for comment were not successful. Rosenbalm said it’s possible some streets could have been missed.
“If there are citizens out there who have not seen a truck in front of their house, we’d like to hear from them," Rosenbalm said.
Debris-clearing trucks weren’t the only thing local residents were waiting for. Gov. Kay Ivey last week officially requested a federal disaster declaration, one that, if approved, could clear the area for federal disaster recovery assistance. In Calhoun County, that could mean assistance not only to governments but to individual people who saw damage from the storm.
Officials of the Federal Emergency Management Agency were reluctant Monday to talk about what that aid, if approved, might make available to Jacksonville residents.
“One of the things we’re really trying to do is manage expectations,” said Danon Lucas, a FEMA spokesman. “Nothing has been approved yet.”
According to FEMA’s website, the agency offers individual assistance to homeowners affected by a disaster for repairs not covered by insurance which are needed to bring a home up to a “safe and sanitary condition” – not to return a home to the condition it was in before a disaster. The agency can also provide rental assistance for people who are displaced, or temporary housing units when no rentals are available.
Lucas said storm victims don’t have to wait for a disaster declaration to begin working on things they’ll need to do in the event aid becomes available.
“You don’t have to wait until you find out if it’s a yes or no,” Lucas said. “People should make sure they contact their insurance agent, document any damage and go ahead and begin cleanup.”
Volunteers from the Long-Term Recovery Committee, a group set up by local nonprofits, are expected to hit the streets next week for a door-to-door assessment of storm victims’ needs, said Shannon Jenkins, director of the local United Way. Those volunteers will also do interviews with residents at the local hotels that still house some storm victims.
Jenkins said he expected the group would find at least some uninsured storm victims who’ve lost their homes. The committee’s biggest need, he said, is money. A similar committee worked for three to four years after the April 27, 2011 storms, he said, though raising money is harder in months and years after a storm.
“We will exhaust whatever is in that fund, and it will all go to help people affected by the storm,” he said.
People can donate through the Community Foundation of Northeast Alabama at yourcommunityfirst.org, Jenkins said.
The committee will hold its first official meeting Wednesday at 11 a.m. at the United Way office in Anniston.