Alabama leaders evaluate rural severe weather safety options

Published: Nov. 30, 2022 at 6:47 PM CST
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - Being prepared during severe weather is at the top of minds after deadly storms swept across the state early Wednesday morning.

While some counties were impacted more than others, rural counties continue to figure out the best way to provide safe shelter for residents.

Alabama’s latest round of severe weather impacted the following 20 counties: Barbour, Blount, Calhoun, Clarke, Chambers, Cherokee, Colbert, Elmore, Etowah, Greene, Hale, Jefferson, Lee, Macon, Montgomery, Shelby, St. Clair, Sumter, Washington, and Walker.

There were possibly 13 tornadoes located in 6 counties: Washington, Sumter, Hale, Montgomery, Barbour and Elmore, according to Alabama Emergency Management Agency acting director Jeff Smitherman.

“That 13 could be reduced,” said Smitherman. “And, sometimes, they actually find damage reported that wasn’t linked to a radar.”

One of the confirmed tornadoes caused two fatalities in a Montgomery neighborhood, and as the River Region looks to heal, they also will look ahead.

“When we do rebuild, we will have storm shelters. I don’t intend to sign off on anything unless storm shelters are somewhere in Flatwoods,” said Montgomery County Commission Vice Chairman, Isaiah Sankey.

But building a storm shelter can be costly. In Coffee County, their emergency management director, James Brown, says that’s the reason they currently don’t have more than six.

“A few years ago, they’re about $300,000, to put in about a 75-person unit,” said Brown.

Brown says the price has likely increased, but there is some federal money available to help.

“Through the most recent disasters, we’ve got 10s of millions of dollars available for mitigation efforts,” said Smitherman. “And some of that of which we’ve already through FEMA obligated almost $2 million in safer just off the most recent disasters.”

“But location is another thing,” said Brown. “You have to figure out where is the best location, so you’d want to put it near someplace that maybe had mobile homes or areas like that.”

This can be difficult in a rural county, but Alabama’s safer places program allows counties to designate businesses or churches as safe places for people to go during a severe weather event.

“It may not be the best place, but it may be safer than what you’re at,” said Brown.

Brown rates the impact of last night’s storm on his county a 2 out of 5. But he says it’s important Alabamians know their surrounding counties so they can better track a severe weather event.

Alabama also offers a tax credit program for residents that can be given up to $3,000 for building a storm shelter.

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