The Alabama town of Maplesville has a success story on its hands – one big enough to draw a visit from the governor.
Following Hurricane Ivan in 2005, Maplesville decided to build a community storm shelter because of its long history of storms. The town joined up with the Chilton County Emergency Management Agency and the Chilton County Commission and worked on a 5-year plan that ended with Maplesville receiving a storm shelter.
FEMA and the Alabama Emergency Management Agency helped the town fund it with Hazard Mitigation Grant Program money. The 2005 grant provided just more than $48,000 of the nearly $70,000 total project cost as the 60-person-capacity steel shelter went up not far from the town fire station. It opened in November 2007.
The shelter has been used successfully many times, including the historic storms and tornadoes that hammered Alabama in April 2011. Following that federally declared disaster, one of the worst to hit the state, Governor Bentley vowed to make more safe rooms the legacy of that disaster.
The most recent proof of the value of the shelter came just a few days ago when severe storms and tornadoes raked parts of Alabama, including Maplesville. Well over 100 people – some coming from as far away as five miles – gathered inside that shelter to escape the storm. While the storm raged, two trees fell on the shelter – one of them a foot in diameter. Despite cosmetic damage to the shelter, no one inside reported any injuries.
Governor Bentley held a news conference in front of the virtually unaffected shelter, stating "You can see the result and how lives can be saved by having these all over the state."
Christine Epperson, a volunteer firefighter and assistant Emergency Medical Services chief commented, "My first thought is always to open the safe room. These people are my family, my life and I want to help protect them."
Following a disaster, hazard mitigation grants make funds available to states and communities to do work that will make structures and infrastructure more resistant for the next disaster. In this case, as Maplesville Mayor Aubrey Latham put it, "The shelter did what it was supposed to do."