North Jefferson News, Gardendale, AL

April 30, 2013

Two years later, Fultondale continues recovery from tornadoes

By Melanie Patterson
North Jefferson News

FULTONDALE — Two years ago a tornado touched down in north Jefferson, causing severe damage mainly in the city of Fultondale.

The first few hours of havoc following the April 27, 2011 storm evolved into organized chaos. Residents and outsiders combined efforts to clear debris from streets and from neighbors’ yards, as well as check on neighbors and friends.

For many days, city officials organized countless volunteers to help sort out the mess left by the twister.

There was a spirit of goodwill that some say still remains in the city today.

“People have a new outlook about what’s important to them compared to two years ago,” said Fultondale inspections officer Darryl Aldrich. “People are more caring toward their neighbors now. Everyone seems willing to work together; to get in there, roll up their sleeves and do it.”

Mayor Jim Lowery added that the tornado changed the way city leaders make decisions.

For one thing, the storm affirmed the city council’s decision to build a new fire station west of Interstate 65 in order to have emergency resources more spread out. Also, Lowery said, the city no longer purchases vehicles that do not include emergency lighting and equipment.

And there will soon be two large community storm shelters in the city.

Fultondale has received more than $1.2 million in federal funding to build two storm. One shelter is to be located off Central Avenue near the ball fields across from Fultondale Elementary School and will accommodate 400 people; the other will likely be on the west side of town at the new Fire Station No. 2 and will hold 300 people.

“We are trying to be more prepared for this type of weather in the future,” Lowery said. “Now our thought process in just about anything we do, especially related to public safety, is a direct affect of going through that.”

Aldrich said he thinks the city has recovered well from the storm, although scars remain on the landscape.

Six businesses were severely damaged and have not built back. In addition, about 40 houses were condemned and torn down due to extensive storm damage.

On the south end of the city, one hotel is close to reopening, while another is still largely in ruins.

The storm recovery had a $2 million price tag, but FEMA and the Alabama Emergency Management Agency reimbursed Fultondale for all but $100,000 spent on recovery efforts.

“We’re blessed that no lives were lost, and there were no serious injuries,” said Lowery. “However, we do realize people have gone through hardships. We’ve made a  turn now after two years.”

Lowery said that everyone who was displaced by the storm has either rebuilt their homes or relocated.

That includes the Hawkins B. Carter American Legion Post 255, which just this month opened a new post on New Castle Road after the storm destroyed the former building beyond by repair.

“We have finished cleanup in the Glendale area, and have finished 99 percent of the cleanup in the business district,” Lowery said. All but a handful of the houses destroyed was in the Glendale neighborhood.

“After two years, we’re moving forward,” he said.

Recently, the city council placed a moratorium on any new building at Glendale while it considers rezoning the area, which sits just behind the Promenade Shopping Center that opened in 2007.

The area is currently zoned for multi-family houses. The council is proposing to rezone it as a commercial area.

“We think it would be better suited for that community,” Lowery said. “When people sell, they can perhaps have more return on their home.”

But he was careful to say that residents of the neighborhood would still be able to live there.

“They can stay there as long as they want,” Lowery said. “But if they sell their property, it could become commercial. It will be good for that area in time.”