Commission offers to help Lee County


Walker County officials indicated Monday they stand willing to help Lee County officials in the wake of the tornadoes that devastated that county on Sunday. 

After Monday's Walker County Commission meeting, Walker County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) Coordinator Regina Myers said the Lee County EMA and Auburn University's own EMA offered staffing and other assistance to Walker County during the April 2011 tornadoes that affected Walker County. She said she had reached out to officials there since Sunday's tornadoes. 

During Monday's meeting, Chairman Jerry Bishop refer to the "tragedy" that happened in Lee County over the weekend involving the tornado that killed 23 people there. Preliminary indications made by the National Weather Service is that it was an EF-4 tornado with winds of 170 mph, press reports indicated Monday. 

Two other EF-1 tornadoes, one in Macon County and one in Barbour County, also took place. 

District 1 Commissioner Keith Davis said the tornado appeared to be massive. "The information given to me was that it was on the ground for about 65 miles," he said. quoted the Storm Prediction Center as saying the storm caused more deaths than the 10 tornado fatalities reported across the entire nation throughout all of 2018. The total was comparable to the 23 killed in Guin on April 4, 1974, when tornadoes that night also killed one in Cullman County, two in Fayette County and five in Winston County. Thirteen were killed in the tornado that devastated Walker County on April 27, 2011, and 72 were killed that day in the tornado that was known to go, in part, through Phil Campbell and Hackleburg; another 64 were killed by the tornado that day known to hit Tuscaloosa. 

"This goes back to our communities and our shelters," Bishop noted, asking for an update on the addition of three new shelters set up in Pineywoods, Townley and Oakman. A number of people asked Myers if they could be used during recent storms, but officials said those shelters are not quite ready to use yet. 

Myers said the structures went up last month, but officials are working with Alagasco to set up the natural gas hookup at the Oakman site, and plans call hopefully to work this week with Alabama Power and electricians to set up electricity at the site. 

Water lines and plumbing at the sites also have to be worked on, she said, noting all the work has to be done on the outside. Additional work must also be performed, and the fire marshal has to inspect them before they can be open to the public. 

After the meeting, Myers noted that as these are federal grant projects, the county must meet certain standards before the facilities are opened to the public. She could not give a timetable when the project will be finished, except to say it would be this year. Bishop said during the meeting that it was on a "fast track" to completion. 

Myers said ceremonies will be held to notify the communities that the storm shelters are open to be used. 

"If the commission can help you any further, you let us know because these have to be finished," Bishop told Myers. "We may never in 100 years see what they had down there, but we have to be prepared. We have to get that done." 

The commissioners, who interact with other commissioners across the state at various meetings, appeared affected by the tragedy, knowing what their counterparts in Lee County are going through. Victims in Lee County were noted during the opening prayer by District 4 Commissioner Steven Aderholt. 

Davis said during the commissioner comment period, "I want to reach out to our friends and family in Lee County. I know all those county commissioners. I've been in many events with them. They are a strong group and they need our prayers now, and need our prayers for strength for what they are facing right now."

Davis noted tragedy like this has happened before in Walker County. "It could have easily been us this time," he said, indicating the county would give "any resources we can give" and that Myers was reaching out to Lee County's commission chairman and EMA coordinator. 

"I know I and these other gentlemen stand by to assist in any way we can," Davis said. 

Bishop said, "I feel the same way Mr. Davis does. I have also meet some of the commissioners from Lee County" in training sessions. Bishop said he was fixated on television weather broadcasts from Birmingham on Sunday, and received an update on conditions Monday morning from Myers. 

He added one could later see heartbreak in the face of the Lee County sheriff on Monday morning coverage. 

Bishop confirmed the county is offering any assistance to Lee County that it needs and urged citizens to also support that area in the aftermath.