By Donna Thornton/News Editor
For many in Etowah County, the destruction and loss of life during the April 27, 2011 tornadoes is a fresh memory.
Two years later, Etowah County is working toward the establishment of several Federal Emergency Management Agency-standard community shelters throughout the county, Gadsden-Etowah County Emergency Management Agency Operations Manager Michael Amberson said.
Until those shelters are ready, Amberson said, the county has seven community shelters: the Etowah Baptist Association on Walnut Street in Gadsden; the Gadsden Public Library; Goodyear Heights Baptist Church; Northeast Etowah Community Center; Paden Baptist Church; Stowers Hill Baptist Church and Young’s Chapel Church.
These shelters are not shelters built to FEMA standards, Amberson said. Rather, the structures have a space with interior walls and no windows – the kind of places people are told to got to in their homes during severe weather – and personnel who have agreed to open the shelters to the public when severe weather threatens.
“We need more building like these,” Amberson said, “particularly in the Sardis area, and in Altoona and Walnut Grove.” If there are churches, community centers or businesses that have a suitable area to offer shelter and would be willing open their doors to people of their community, the GECEMA would like to hear from them.
Amberson said with these community shelters, contact information is provided so that when a community goes under a severe weather watch EMA personnel can contact the facility. The facilities then contact the EMA when their shelter is opened, and the media, Facebook and Twitter are used to notify people of shelter locations. People also may call United Way’s 211 phone line to find out where they can seek shelter.
GECEMA is working on a web site – ShelterEtowah.com – that people will be able to visit to find shelter in their area.
Amberson said the thought behind using community shelters is to provide people who live in mobile home, may not be able to reach their homes, or just do not feel safe sheltering at home, with a safer place to go.
In the meantime, efforts continue in several parts of the county to get community shelters built according to FEMA guidelines. Amberson officials are working toward two shelters in Rainbow City, one in Southside, Glencoe, and Gallant, and two in the Coats Bend community.