Hartselle residents work to recover from tornado damage
By Erica Smith
For the Enquirer
HARTSELLE — Denise and Greg McCaig sat drenched in sweat Wednesday on one of four trees that fell in their North Sparkman Street yard during an EF2 tornado that hit Hartselle March 25.
They were taking a break from cutting up the trees and estimate it’ll take them several weeks to finish the removal process. Getting their home repaired could take even longer because two trees caused extensive damage when they fell on the back of the house.
“We’ve got some rafter damage, roof damage,” Denise said. “We can’t even open our back door; something’s wrong with it, it’s jammed. The tree, when it fell on the house, it’s done something to the back.”
Brandy Davis, Morgan County Emergency Management Agency director, said officials were still working to determine the cost of damage from the two tornadoes that struck Morgan County on Saturday morning shortly after midnight.
She said it’ll be at least six weeks before the county learns if the Federal Emergency Management Agency will provide financial assistance.
“The state has 30 days to get the information to the governor to make a determination as to whether it will be considered and moved forward to ask the federal government for assistance,” she said. “The federal government, FEMA, will only step in if certain thresholds are met. … It’s going to be a challenge for us to meet the state’s threshold with the damage that was done here and in Jackson County and in Colbert County.”
Davis said Alabama’s threshold is $8.8 million meaning, from the three counties affected, the damage must at least be that amount.
That leaves local residents relying on the community for now. Denise McCaig said recovery efforts at their home started Saturday morning and about 40 family and church members along with other friends have volunteered so far. Denise said they are giving away the cut wood to people for firewood.
“We’re trying to beat the rain,” Denise said. “It’s supposed to start pouring rain every day next week so we’re trying to get as much done as we can.”
The two trees that fell on the back of the house “broke all our back windows, the siding,” Denise said. “It tore our back porch off, we’ve got three storage buildings that were completely destroyed.”
A trailer used for hauling motorcycles was flattened by a falling tree, and another trailer and a Corvette remained crushed under a tree Wednesday.
Nearby on Rhodes Street, Elsie Shelton, 92, used a flashlight to check her water meter Wednesday, thinking that her downed trees might have damaged a water line. She couldn’t determine if there was a problem and hoped her son could come later and check it for her. Tarps covered about half of her roof, and removal of at least eight trees that fell on her property hadn’t even begun Wednesday.
“We’ve already hired someone to start on the trees, but they’re having to wait for the (insurance) adjusters. They can’t go any further,” Shelton said.
Hartselle Mayor Randy Garrison said the city is doing whatever it can to assist in recovery efforts.
“The biggest thing as a city we’re working with right now is debris removal,” he said. “We’re running brush trucks 16 hours a day almost to try to get that picked up and taken away.”
He said he believes about 200 Hartselle Utilities customers lost power as a result of the tornado.
“I do know that electricity has been restored to all the areas that’s handled by Hartselle Utilities except for those homes that have damage that needs to be repaired before the power can be restored,” he said. “They had most of the power back on by … Sunday; less than 24 hours on some of it.”
Wes Tomlinson, Joe Wheeler EMC spokesman, said Hartselle Utilities serves downtown Hartselle and Joe Wheeler serves everywhere else. The total number of customers that lost power in the Joe Wheeler coverage area, which includes Morgan and Lawrence counties, he said, was 6,242.
“I would say the Hartselle and Danville areas are what took the most damage,” he said. “Everybody’s been restored since 11:26 p.m. Sunday.”
The tornado that struck the Hartselle area about 12:20 a.m. March 25 was 175 yards wide and traveled 13.56 miles, from Alabama 157 to Interstate 65, in six minutes. Another tornado, an EF1 with 94 mph winds, hit Lacey’s Spring at 12:47 a.m. Saturday, according to the National Weather Service, causing substantial damage along a path that was 325 yards wide and 2.09 miles long.
Garrison said Hartselle has never experienced damage from a tornado like it in his lifetime.
“It’s kind of heartbreaking to see this happen in your city,” he said. “It’s one of those things that we’ll get through it, and we’ll be stronger for it.”