By Donna Thornton/News Editor
Etowah County continues to deal with the damage left by an EF3 tornado that struck the Smith’s Institute community near Sardis City on April 28.
Though initially left off the governor’s disaster declaration list, Etowah County has been added, and that should help those who sustained damage in the storm and agencies that assisted them to recoup some of their expenses.
However the needs in the community continue to be great, and those involved in the recovery effort have said the response does not seem to be as great as in other disasters.
The United Way of Etowah issued an appeal for donations earlier this week, and The Chamber, Gadsden-Etowah, President Heather New forwarded that appeal, with her own plea for help for storm victims.
“Please consider helping – at any level that you can. There are so many things I love about my community, but the number one thing that keeps my heart planted deeply in Etowah County is how good the people are here,” New wrote. “I’ve seen overwhelming generosity and extreme devotion to helping your neighbors in the past, and I have faith that we will do it again.”
United Way, VOAD and 211 First Call for Help have opened two additional donation centers to help make it easier for folks to help. In addition to the Future Home of Free Life Church on 255 Main Street, Boaz, donations can be dropped off at:
• United Way of Etowah County – 605 South 4th Street, Gadsden
• CrossPoint Community Church, 2730 Wills Creek Road, Gadsden
The following items are needed:
• non-perishable food
• batteries (all sizes)
• toiletries (toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap, shampoo, deodorant)
• trash bags (prefer the large black trash bags)
• plastic bins
Volunteers are still needed as well, People may call 256-543-4357 to register to volunteer. Remember, scratch and dent cans of food can still be used.
Etowah County Sheriff Todd Entrekin said the volunteer registration site at Bethlehem Baptist Church closed Tuesday afternoon, and the sheriff’s office command post would stay in operation until around 7 p.m. on Friday (May 9).
Entrekin said patrols in the area will continue as long as needed.
There was plenty of praise to go around at the commission’s May 6 work session, for the work put in by county crews, law enforcement, United Way, the American Red Cross, churches in the Smith’s Institute-Sardis City area, and countless volunteers who turned out to help people – often people they did not even know.
“I don’t think I’ve seen a group in a community that gathered together and did more – above and beyond the call of duty,” Etowah County Commissioner Larry Payne said. He said there were 250 volunteers working the day after the tornado and 200 the next day. The numbers dropped as days passed, he said.
Payne said the rural setting of the storm presented some challenges that might not be faced in a city environment – cattle that were out, or chickens killed when chicken houses collapsed.
“It was massive destruction,” he said.
Entrekin said the storm response has exhausted the overtime budget for his office, making if even more critical that a federal disaster declaration included the county so the office will get reimbursement.
Commissioners also discussed purchasing two pieces of grappling equipment to help clear storm debris, such as downed trees, from the right of way. The equipment will cost around $27,000, and would not be reimbursed from federal funds. However, the county would have the equipment for current and future use, and could save on the estimated $150,000 it would cost to contract the clean up work.
Etowah County Chief Administrative Officer Patrick Sims said the county can be reimbursed for the cost of clearing debris from the right of way. Property owners would be responsible for getting debris from their property to the right of way, and that needs to be done as soon as possible. He said the county would need to establish a cut-off time for debris removal, because the level for reimbursement drops as time passes.