Hundreds come together to clean up Gadsden after weeks of storms

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Photo courtesy of City of Gadsden: Alabama Power crews work to restore power following a strong storm.

By Kaitlin Hoskins, News Editor

Volunteers came together to help clear debris in Gadsden after several weeks of severe storms. The latest round of storms came during the afternoon of Thursday, Aug. 3. The severe weather brought strong straight-line winds that caused damage to homes and trees on Noccalula Mountain.
The storm arrived during the first day of the World’s Longest Yardsale, when hundreds of people were expected to be around the Noccalula Falls.
According to Derek Mummert, director for the Gadsden – Etowah County Emergency Management Agency, no serious injuries were reported in the aftermath of the storm.
During the regularly called meeting of the Gadsden City Council Tuesday, Aug. 8, Mummert stated that 300 trees had fallen in the storm. Tena King, director of city services with the mayor’s office, said that Gadsden’s 911 dispatch center received over 250 calls following the severe winds.
A total of 228 tons of storm debris were collected from Thursday afternoon until Monday afternoon.
Directly after the storm, 15,000 Alabama Power customers were without power, but by Saturday afternoon power had been restored to all homes that could receive the utility. Alabama Power had over 330 personnel up on Noccalula Mountain to replace the 55 power poles that were damaged. The storm did not just significantly damage homes; it gave individuals and organizations an opportunity to come together and help their fellow neighbors. One such group were student athletes and coaches with the Gadsden City High School athletics program. Athletes gave up one of their final two days of summer vacation to give back to the community. Many of the school’s sports teams showed up to help those affected by the storms. “Those guys showed up about 9’o’clock [Monday] morning,” John Moore, director of economic development and governmental affairs in the mayor’s office, said. “They went out and picked up debris in people’s yards up on the mountain. They did a great job. There are young athletes. They are the future of our city. To see those guys come in and work as hard as they have… I am excited about the future of Gadsden. They’ve got a great work ethic.” The Titans helped by clearing fallen debris from yards and moving heavy downed tree limbs. One athlete, James McFadden, nicknamed “Tarzan” by boys basketball coach Ralpheal Graves, attended the city council meeting with Graves. “We were all in a meeting last week when the storm was going on,” Graves said. “The lights were flickering… then we get the phone calls saying there’s been a disaster up on the mountain. All the athletes, coaches and [athletic directors] got a chance to serve the community by going and helping someone else. James was one of the hardest ones up there. He was picking up trees left and right. When we were leaving, he was still over in a yard going over and beyond trying to serve the community and help. We’re very thankful to have athletes like that.” In addition to the Gadsden City students and coaches, organizations and local churches lent a helping hand, from passing out water and food to running chainsaw crews to bringing groceries and generators to vulnerable residents. Northeast Alabama Mounted Services (NEAMS), a local community service organization of men and women, came with chainsaws to help clear debris. According to Ponda Jones, a member of the organization, her husband Chad and a few other members helped teach some individuals how to use chainsaws. In addition to NEAMS, the American Red Cross, the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief Yellow Shirt Army, Family Success Center, United Way, Probate Judge Scott Hassell, Church of the Highlands Disaster Response Team, Riverview Regional Medical Center and Gadsden Firefighter Union lended assistance. Members of the mayor’s office re-cognized multiple organizations and individuals for their efforts directly following the damaging storm at Tuesday’s council meeting but said they would not be able to list everyone that helped because the list was too large. “There are so many people and organizations that came out to help,” Mayor’s Chief of Staff Brett Johnson said. “At one point there was no ambulance available in Etowah County because of the medical response. So, Piedmont Rescue sent two units up here, even with a storm heading their way at the time.” Johnson went on to thank Rainbow City Fire Department for covering the downtown Gadsden area, the City of Attalla for covering Alabama City, Walnut Park and airport area, the Glencoe Fire Department for covering East Gadsden and also assisting with a chainsaw crew up on the mountain and Ball Play Bend Fire Department for assisting with a thermal drone immediately in the aftermath. “Several large pine trees fell… even though [the area] was searched immediately we needed to bring out some thermal drones to make sure no one was missed,” Johnson said. Johnson also recognized Misty Lemons in the fire department administrative office. Lemons has experience in dispatch and, according to Johnson, she jumped in and took phone calls when dispatch was overwhelmed. Ruth Moffat, director of diversity, equity and inclusion in the mayor’s office, was a representative inside the emergency operations center (EOC) during and immediately after the storm hit Gadsden. She coordinated on the operations of the volunteer reception center (VRC). Moffat explained her role and the steps the city took following the disaster at the Tuesday council meeting. “Typically following a small to large scale disaster you’re going to have what we call the VRC,” Moffat said. “In the aftermath of any disaster, you have a lot of people come out wanting to help. We want to do it in a way that we can do it safely. But the important part about the VRC is that this is how we are able to give that information back to FEMA or back to the governor’s office to get reimbursement. We have a lot of people who want to do a lot of great thing, but if you don’t register or sign up [with the VRC], we can’t count you. It’s very important.” In addition to the VRC, the City of Gadsden opened up a disaster relief center (DRC). “We called on some partners and I want to highlight some,” Moffat said. “It warmed my heart… Judge Hassell came out and brought his canteen. He initially came out in a shirt and tie. He came back with the canteen with a t-shirt and blue jeans and rolled up his sleeves to start cooking hamburgers and hotdogs. Marie Johnson with Etowah County Food Bank… we made one phone call to her. She dropped the things that she was doing. She pulled up, raised up the trunk and there we were.” Moffat mentioned the hard work of the Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters, commonly referred to as VOAD, and the Community Emergency Response Team, referred to as CERT. “One person can’t do all of this,” Moffat said. “It takes us to collectively come together to make this a success. Thank you to everyone.” Mummert echoed Moffat’s sentiment by saying the city was “better together.” “We can’t thank you guys enough,” Mummert said. “This disaster shows that we can all work together to achieve a common goal.”

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