Dismal recovery could be hurricane’s harbinger for the South

EUTAW, Ala. (AP) — There’s not much to do in Green County, a place that stands out for its need even in poor West Alabama. So the tornado that settled on one of its most densely populated areas, a housing community full of seniors and low-income families, felt like an especially brutal blow.

Strong winds shattered the roofs, walls and windows of the apartment. Yula del Lanier, 64, cried out to God as her home was separated. “I was calling Jesus because the walls were coming down,” she said.

Yet the tornado was not one of those memorable monsters that devastated so many places in the South or the Midwest; No one was killed or badly injured. While about 40 homes were damaged in the 200-unit development, only a handful were as bad as Lanier’s house.

Still, after nearly four months, the recovery looks daunting for some residents as housing officials say sluggishness is due to lack of workers and supplies, geographic isolation and generational poverty. And in what is generally the worst part of hurricane season for the US Gulf Coast, the experience of William McKinley Branch Heights – an area named for a civil rights leader – shows how difficult it can be to move on from even a minor disaster. When life was a struggle before.

Lanier’s home in Twister was severely damaged on April 13 and she now lives in a small replacement apartment nearby. She is so sad about the long-standing damage and rubble that she doesn’t drive by her old place, where broken brick walls still lie in the yard and a hole in the roof lets rain fall. Mold and mildew interiors.

“You come to Branch Heights and see all that stuff and it’s like they’re not even trying to clean it up. It’s frustrating, and it feels so slow,” she said. In a community of both privately-owned homes and government-subsidized apartments, Lanier owned his home and is insured, but repairs have yet to begin.

Although the area did not qualify for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency because the damage was not bad enough, officials say they are working hard to repair the community, and that much progress has been made.

The Alabama Rural Coalition for the Homeless provided $30,000 for temporary housing for dozens of residents who settled in a small motel for two months because nothing was available elsewhere in the rural county. School buses were dispatched to the Econologe, and donors provided clothing, shoes, food, gift cards and more to the victims. Contractors are still repairing apartments in summer temperatures. About 125 residents displaced by the storm have returned to Branch Heights, living in temporary homes.

Still, Anita Lewis, executive director of the Green County Housing Authority, has heard some complain about what feels like a slow recovery.

“It wasn’t a big storm, but it was major for us because of the size of the development,” Lewis said. “It was devastating to the families and the community.”

The head of a group providing aid to some of the poorest parts of Alabama worries what the recovery in Branch Heights could mean for other disadvantaged parts of the Gulf Coast region this summer.

“I think a major disaster like a hurricane could be devastating for our region,” said Cynthia Burton, executive director of Community Service Programs for West Alabama, which assists in Utah and operates in 10 counties.

Weakening in the case of a tornado, the twister’s winds were up to 90 mph (145 kph) as it moved about 18 miles (29 km) southwest of Birmingham in an area of ​​about 90 miles (145 kilometers) southwest of Birmingham. used to cover the distance. The entire county has only 7,600 residents, 80% of whom are black, and it generally has one of the worst unemployment rates in the state. About 30% of its residents live in poverty.

The lack of an organized disaster volunteer group in Greene County complicated recovery in Utah because the coordination needs and solutions were more difficult, according to Melinda Stallworth of the Volunteer Services Governor’s Office, which is still assisting with the work. The agency expects a group to be organized within a few weeks, before hurricane season has a chance to intensify, she said.

“Recovery takes some time in the first place,” she said. “It takes longer with these additional conflicts.”

Most homes in Branch Heights are fine, but blue wires, broken walls and piles of rubble are still visible on some streets. The housing director said a mix of government housing and privately owned houses complicates recovery.

But Branch Heights is hardly the only place to struggle after a natural disaster.

In coastal Louisiana, some members of Native American communities remain in the wreckage of Category 4 Hurricane Ida nearly a year later, and residents of rural Mayfield, Kentucky are still rebuilding when much of the city was shattered during a tornado outbreak. in which about 90 people were killed. People in the Midwest and South in December.

According to the Wharton Risk Management and Decision Process Center at the University of Pennsylvania, poor communities often have a harder time recovering from natural disasters because they receive less assistance, have less insurance, have less credit and need less resources to get help. There is a shortage. More support, better preparation and simpler application procedures are needed, it found.

When the nearest big-box home supply store in Tuscaloosa is about 35 miles (56 kilometers) away, it’s tough to repair the residence, Lewis said. He said the damage was not enough to warrant a disaster declaration, so only limited outside aid was available.

Private groups and the state helped, she said, but the community center in the heart of Branch Heights is still open months later. He said the gym filled with donated items can only be opened seldom because of structural damage and lack of manpower.

Just downstairs from the community center, Jacqueline Allen ponders what may be living in a giant pile of rubble near her home months after the twister. A child boarded a hoverboard just a few feet from the mess in the scorching sun.

“We worry there may be snakes and things coming in there,” she said. “It’s hot and they’re moving, and there are kids living right next to him.”

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