In Phil Campbell, Debris is Gone and Focus is on Rebuilding

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Phil Campbell lost no time in starting debris removal after the April 27 tornado. Only with the debris gone could the community turn its attention to rebuilding and healing.

The community lost many residents in the storm, along with its only medical clinic, pharmacy, post office, high school, two government housing facilities, four churches, 132 houses, all three restaurants and the roof over city hall and the police department.

A glimpse of the damage caused by the April tornado that damaged or destroyed several homes and businesses.

A glimpse of the damage caused by the April tornado that damaged or destroyed several homes and businesses.

“You could see a clear path through downtown,” said Phil Campbell Police Chief Merrell Potter. “It was like a desert.”

On Aug. 17 city employees moved back into a repaired city hall, and the police chief supervised his officers’ second transition in less than four months as he entered the newly renovated police department.

Phil Campbell Mayor Jerry Mays said the healing process continues as rebuilding gets under way. The town of 1,100 managed to remove more than 264,000 cubic yards of tornado debris from May 25 to June 25. 

An hour after the 3 p.m. disaster, the whole community jumped into action. City crews, volunteers and neighbors came together to conduct search and rescue, and begin to open roadways for emergency services. Neighboring towns and Franklin County sent emergency responders to help, and the National Guard arrived the following day. After the immediate response, attention turned to debris removal.

The town hired a contractor for debris removal and a monitoring service company to document the debris operation. Phil Campbell spent $3.1 million on debris removal and qualified for reimbursement through the Alabama Emergency Management Agency and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Mayor Mays said experts from AEMA and the FEMA public assistance program helped the town make some good decisions and ultimately kept the city on track to receive the maximum reimbursement from the public assistance program.

“The response in Phil Campbell is a great example of the whole team it takes to recover after a disaster like this,” said State Coordinating Officer Jeff Byard with AEMA. “It always starts at the local level.”

Two local churches and the Salvation Army opened their kitchens and prepared meals every day because no restaurants survived the tornado.

For two months, there was nowhere to buy so much as a hamburger in Phil Campbell.

But, there was plenty of need for hamburgers and other sustenance. At one point, 700 registered volunteers helped the community saw, sort and drag debris to the curb for pickup. The University of North Alabama brought its entire, 100-strong, athletic department to help. Volunteer teams and individuals from many states helped Phil Campbell during the weeks of cleanup, and more are expected in the coming weeks to help people rebuild.

Photo of Volunteers, who are a part of the team with FEMA, provided critical services for storm affected residents at locations such as this following the April tornado.

Volunteers, who are a part of the team with FEMA, provided critical services for storm affected residents at locations such as this following the April tornado.

“We aren’t a people who stand around and wa...

Last Updated: 
03/04/2013 - 10:36
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