HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan pledges to rebuild tornado ravaged Alabama ‘better and stronger’

Touring Rosedale Court are (front row) U. S Congresswoman Terri Sewell and U. S. Senator Richard Shelby. In the second row are Jim Bayard, State of Alabama HUD Director and Shaun Donovan, HUD Secretary

By: John Zippert,

Standing on the ruins of Rosedale Courts, public housing project in Tuscaloosa, HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, pledged to rebuild Tuscaloosa and other storm affected communities in the state “better and stronger than they were before the tornados on April 15 and 27.
At a press conference after a tour of the devastation where 100 out of 188 units were destroyed and 11 people died, Donovan joined by other political leaders said over $12 million dollars in HUD Community Development Block Grant funds could be used in a flexible way to respond to the needs to rebuild community facilities and the basic housing stock in the state.
Donovan said funds were available to the state and municipalities from the Section 108 loan program against future CDBG funding. There is also emergency housing assistance from FEMA and mobile homes which will be brought in by state and Federal emergency management officials to house persons temporarily for up to 18 months whose homes were totaled by the fierce tornados.
When pressed by this reporter, Secretary Donovan said, “the government is concerned about every person and family in the area; those that live in cities like Tuscaloosa and also those who live in the surrounding rural communities, like Sawyerville, Tishabee Snoddy, Vienna, Lisman.
Mayor Maddox of Tuscaloosa said that the state and Federal government needed to be commended for coming together rapidly to work on solutions. Senator Richard Shelby said, “ you will be judged in this tornado relief effort by what you do. We welcome your presence and that of President Obama. We hope these visits will serve the purpose and help stir things up in the bureaucracy to get assistance to the people of Alabama.”
Congresswoman Terri Sewell, whose district from Birmingham to the Black Belt has been impacted by the tornados said “ I am inspired by the generosity of people helping people in the aftermath of these storms. I promise you that the low income and rural people of the district will not be forgotten.”
Ralph Paige from the Federation of Southern Cooperatives said, “ reflecting on Hurricane Katrina, we still have 400 people in south Mobile County that qualified for CDBG housing assistance but have never received it and are still waiting for it. I hope people in Tuscaloosa and the Black Belt will receive the assistance they need on a timely basis to rebuild their homes. We may need to ask Congress for special funding to cover these disaster needs.”
At the press conference, FEMA reported that 45,000 people had registered statewide to get assistance; 12,000 home inspections have been carried out; 300 displaced people are still living in shelters, while the rest have moved in with relatives, friends or neighbors; and some are living in hotels.


Disaster Recovery Center opens at Eutaw Activity Center

Greene County DRC officials pictured above L to R: M. Louisa Williams, Small Business Administrator Team Leader@ MDRCH 19; Don San Souci; FEMA, Greene County DRC Manager and Levy Watson, FEMA team member.

A FEMA Disaster Recovery Center (DRC) serving Greene County was set up Saturday, May 7 at the Eutaw Activity Center on Harris Avenue. The center is staffed by 4 representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), a representative from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) and a Hazard Mitigation Official. The DRC is open to serve the community from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., 7 days a week until further notice.
The Greene County DRC manager, Don San Souci, stated that as of Tuesday, more than 100 persons affected by the recent tornado storms had visited the center to sign up with FEMA and enter the process.
San Souci explained that persons without access to a telephone and are seeking assistance can utilize phones set up at the Disaster Recovery Center in Eutaw. According to San Souci, this initial call is necessary to enter the process. Once the individual is registered the person will be assigned a 9 digit registration number.
Persons with insurance may also register with FEMA. They should bring their insurance records with them to the DRC or information to contact the respective companies.
Home owners and renters registering with FEMA will need to show personal identification as well as documents showing their home ownership or renter’s residency. If these basic documents were lost in the storms, individuals should contact governmental or utility offices for copies of records.
Once a person has entered the system, FEMA inspectors will contact the applicant to assess home and other property for damages. All FEMA applicants should provide a phone number for follow up contact from FEMA.
According to releases provided by FEMA Public Affairs Officer, Debra Young, “FEMA is working with all disaster survivors to determine their need for temporary housing.” The release further explained that FEMA’s initial attempt is to place disaster survivors in other existing housing, but in rural areas available rental housing is extremely limited. Mobile temporary housing may be the best option.
Greene County Interim EMA Director, Iris Sermon, has taken a lead role in coordinating the various agencies and volunteers trying to assist individuals, families and businesses affected by the storms of the last two weeks.
Two FEMA public informational sessions have already been held, one through the Greene County Rotary Club in Eutaw on last Thursday and one at White Oak Church, Mantua, last Friday evening. A third is scheduled for Thursday, May 12 at 6:00 p.m. at the Forkland Town Hall. These sessions alert communities on how to report and present damage and loss claims through FEMA and related agencies. The basic number to register with FEMA is 1800-621-3362.

Commission receives $272,420 from Greenetrack in April

Despite the devastation caused by the recent tornados, the people of Greene County got some good news at the regular meeting of the Greene County Commission.
According to Commission Chair William “Nick”  Underwood, Greenetrack has paid their $250,000 yearly rent to the county. In addition, the county received $22,420 from their share of the bingo proceeds in April.
Over three million chickens were killed in the county as well as other livestock, but thanks to the efforts of legislators including State Senators Hank Sanders and Bobby Singleton, Greene was added to the counties eligible to participate in a $10 million grant to fund jobs for work in the tornado recovery. Initially, Greene County was not included, but according to Underwood, it took only an hour to make the change and include Greene.
According to County Engineer Arzo Abrams, FEMA will contract with the Corps of Engineer to clean rights of ways and remove debris from roadsides.
Commissioner Underwood stated that an effort will be made to secure a waiver allowing FEMA and the Corps to also remove debris from the property of families affected by the storms.
In other business, the commission:
*Ratified the Chairman’s action to initiate a recall of all but two of the employees who were laid off.
*Approved reinstating EMA personnel who had been laid off. The state gave the county $5,000 to fund this,
*Approved Eutaw Activity Center as the designated Disaster Recovery Center.
*Discussed the cut in the state funding for the Retired Senior Citizen Program (RSVP). According to County Administrator Mattie Atkins, the budget for their programs has been cut by 20%. She suggested that rather than concentrating on the number of participants, they were to concentrate on the impact that RSVP has on the county. The largest cut, she said, will be in salaries.
It was also decided to withhold approval of the RSVP manager’s trip to Louisiana until it was determined whether or not the trip was mandatory and how much money would be received from the state.
*Approved supplying labor and materials to help fix the roads in Branch Heights. The city will put in $5,000 in cash.
Commissioner Marvin Childs asked what was being done about Sumter County’s participation in this program. For years, Sumter has participated but not paid into the funding. He was told that two commissioners from each county would meet on the last Monday in May.
*Discussed a recent report on the population of each district. “The commission is going to have to go through a redistricting,” said Atkins. “Districts 1, 3 & 5 will be affected. One has too many people. Five doesn’t have enough. District 4 needs to put some areas in District 5. The ideal balance for each district is 1,809 people. Atkins said the changes will cost the county no more than $8,500 and would probably be done by West Alabama Regional Commission.
Underwood suggested that a cost estimate be prepared and the matter be tabled until it could be reviewed in detail.
*It was decided to meet with the Ralph/Fosters Water Authority to ask for the names and addresses of their customers in order to add them to the mandatory garbage collection fee list. A meeting will be held with Ralph/Fosters at 6 p.m. on May 31.
*Approved transfer of ABC license from Midway Mart to Trackside to Rajuinder Singh
*Approved appointment of Sue Vance to District 2 Greene County Hospital Board and Shirley Scott Isaac to District 4 for the same board. Their terms will begin when the current board members’ terms end.
*Appointed Mary Snoddy to the Park and Recreation Association Board.
*Tabled an appointment to the West Alabama Regional Transportation Board until further discussion.
*Approved a recommendation from Engineer Arzo Abrams to accept a bid for a motor grader blade.
*Agreed to provide labor and materials to beginning repairing pot holes on Branch Heights roads.

Tornado destroys homes, churches, trailers and other structures in West Alabama

Pictured above is Christian Valley Baptist Church in Tishabee. Below is Mt.Pilgrim Baptist Church, located right across the road from Mt. Pilgrim. Both churches were destroyed by the tornado that hit the Southern area of Greene County last Wednesday. Many homes and other structures were destroyed in that area as well as in the Mantua/Snoddy communities.

Late Wednesday afternoon on April 27, a tornado roared through West Alabama and East Mississippi, destroying everything it touched. The tornado funnel was more than a mile wide at some points, and is said to have contained several smaller funnels.
The amount of damage done has not been estimated, but at least four churches in Greene County were destroyed and many homes and trailers either totally lost or seriously damaged throughout West Alabama. At least four lives were lost in Sawyerville, Hale County.
In the aftermath of this almost unbelievable damage, community, state and federal organizations rallied to help the residents pick up the pieces.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has designated over 30 counties, including Greene, Sumter, Marengo, Hale, and Tuscaloosa as disaster areas.
You may apply for assistance by calling FEMA’s toll-free registration number – 800-621-FEMA between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. local time. Hearing and speech impaired persons can use the TTY number 800-462-7585 or e-mail
The Federation of Southern Cooperatives in Epes, AL has reactivated the Federation Rural Training and Research Center (FSC), near Epes, Alabama, as a staging and supply storage area for assistance, i.e., food, water, clothing, equipment, supplies, to surrounding rural communities, impacted by the storms.
The FSC is making its dormitory (with 60 bunk beds) and kitchen available for people coming from outside the area to work on relief and recovery efforts in Tuscaloosa and surrounding areas. The Center is located 50 miles south of Tuscaloosa and provides easy access to these areas, without imposing on people in the direct impact area.
The Federation needs the support and assistance of its members, partners and friends in making this tornado response meaningful, sensitive and successful. You may contact us and donate funds and other materials designated for disaster relief through our website at
“We will be concentrating our direct emergency assistance to families in small rural communities in the Alabama Black Belt counties surrounding Tuscaloosa,” said Program Director John Zippert.
You can directly contact the Federation Rural Training and Research Center, 575 Federation Road (P. O. Box 95) in Epes, Alabama 35460; or by calling 205/652-9676 or e-mail at or Ask for John Zippert, Director; Debra Eatman, Logistics Coordinator; Ms. Pam Madzima, Co-op Development Program; and Osa Idehen, Outreach Coordinator.
So far, the Federation has received communications from citizens in Sumter, Greene, Hale, Pickens, Choctaw, Monroe and Marengo counties and is still contacting other people.
Community Aid Center Open
A community program in Eutaw activated during the Katrina disaster is now open to help tornado victims.
Located at 114 Tuscaloosa Street across from the Greene County Courthouse in Eutaw, the Community Aid Center is collecting donated items to be distributed to those in need.
Volunteers run the center which has remained open at least part time since the group of concerned citizens founded it when so many refugees from Hurricane Katrina came through Greene County.Items needed include, but are not limited to, canned goods, toiletry items, paper towels, male and female undergarments in all sizes, laundry items, and other nonperishable items.
The center will be open from 9 a.m. until Noon and from 4-6 p.m. in the afternoon Monday through Friday. For more information, contact Linda Spencer at 205-496-0373, Pastor Joe Webb or Mrs. Gwen Webb at 205-499-1961.
Your support will be greatly appreciated.
Area churches are also collecting and distributing nonperishables and other items.

West Alabama hit by high winds, heavy rain and more expected

In the late night hours of April 26 and early morning of April 27, strong tornadic winds and heavy rain pelted West Alabama, downing trees, limbs and power lines.
Many people were without elecricity for several hours at a stretch.
The picture to the right was taken early Wednesday morning on Mesopotamia Street in Eutaw, where the power pole was cracked and the lines were completely down. The tree pictured was literally uprooted by the heavy winds.
According to the National Weather Service, wind up to 100 miles per hour kocked out power in approximately 263,000 homes and businesses throughout Alabama, and more severe weather was expected later in the day on Wednesday.
Thursday, however, is expected to be sunny and clear
On April 22, Congresswoman Terri A. Sewell (D-AL) issued the following statement after being notified that Alabama’s request for a major federal disaster declaration was denied by Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Craig Fugate on behalf of President Barack Obama. The federal disaster declaration request was made earlier this week by Governor Bentley, following deadly storms and tornadoes that ripped through the state on April 15.
“I am very disappointed in FEMA’s decision to deny federal disaster assistance to Alabama and to the victims of the deadly storms that ripped through our state last week.
While I greatly appreciate the efforts of FEMA officials currently working in Alabama and assessing the extent of the damage, I had strongly hoped that the federal government would offer assistance to our state and local governments and to the storm’s victims as they grapple with their losses.
“This decision places additional burdens and worries upon already hurting families and ignores the enormous costs to our state and local governments that are already struggling. I commend the efforts of the state and local governments as well as faith-based and non-profit community organizations who quickly mobilized to provide assistance to victims following this tragedy.
“My office will continue to work with state and local officials and non-profit organizations to ensure that we are doing all we can to get people the resources and assistance they need to rebuild their communities after these storms.”