MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Alabama emergency managers kept one eye on the destruction occurring in Mississippi as they prepared for supercell storm systems to enter their state during the afternoon and early evening of April 28.
Alabamians heeded meteorologists’ dire warnings that this system appeared to be “a particularly dangerous situation” by closing schools and government offices in the early afternoon. Gov. Robert Bentley issued a state of emergency for all 67 counties because of the threat.
Storms Enter the State at 1 p.m.
All the ingredients for tornado development were parked over Alabama as the storms rolled into the northwest region of the state at about 1 p.m. When the outbreak subsided at 6:30 p.m., 29 tornadoes were recorded, homes and buildings were destroyed by high winds of up to 88 mph and hail the size of baseballs damaged roofs and vehicles.
The damage was widespread with roads impassable, trees and electrical wires down and several reports of people trapped in their homes. Five people died, 16 were injured.
In the southern part of the state, flooding was a major problem with 23.67 inches of rain recorded in Mobile. Search and rescue teams were dispatched for door-to-door searches to find trapped survivors throughout the state.
At the height of the storm, more than 126,000 power outages were reported by the state. The American Red Cross opened five shelters in hardest-hit counties. Some 65 community safe rooms were utilized, saving countless lives.
Later, meteorologists pronounced that the April 28th storms spawned the fourth highest number of tornadoes in a single event. According to the National Weather Service, the outbreak left a swath of damage almost 200 miles long across the state. The weather service also confirmed four EF-3 tornadoes (the Fujita Scale of tornado strength ranges from EF-0 to EF-5), severe storms, straight-line winds and flooding affecting 31 counties.
At the state Emergency Operations Center (EOC) in Clanton, staff compiled and analyzed reports coming in from the counties. With more than $6.7 million in damages and knowing that amount surpassed the state’s ability to absorb, State Emergency Manager Art Faulkner reported to Gov. Bentley that he should seek federal assistance.
The governor asked for the help of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. President Obama expedited a major disaster declaration on May 2, opening the doors for federal aid.
Initially, four counties were declared for Individual Assistance and five counties for Public Assistance. Following a declaration amendment on May 8, another five counties were added for Individual Assistance, which provides grants for individuals and households.
On May 12, 13 counties were added for Public Assistance, which includes emergency reimbursements for protective measures, repairs to roads and bridges, public buildings and infrastructure as well as debris removal.
Counties designated for Individual Assistance include: Baldwin, Blount, DeKalb, Etowah, Jefferson, Lee, Limestone, Mobile and Tuscaloosa.
Counties designated for Public Assistance include: including Baldwin, Butler, Covington, Crenshaw, Dale, DeKalb, Etowah, Franklin, Geneva, Jefferson, Lamar, Lee, Limestone, Mobile, Perry, Pickens and Tuscaloosa.
FEMA, one of Alabama’s federal partners, prepositioned a mobile command center at the Alabama EOC to assist in the response effort.
Within 24 hours of the declaration, preliminary damage assessments for Public Assistance had been completed for Baldwin, Jefferson and Limestone counties. Individual Assistance preliminary damage assessments were started in Blount, DeKalb, Etowah, Mobile and Tuscaloosa counties.
Meanwhile, FEMA staff worked to prepare for and deploy equipment for three Disaster Recovery Centers – two in Jefferson and one in Lee counties, while teams of Disaster Survivor Assistance specialists traveled to the state EOC. These teams would fan out across the state to assess, inform and report the situation in communities, as well as going door-to-door to provide on-the-spot FEMA registration for survivors.
The U.S. Small Business Administration, another federal partner, dispatched its staff to Alabama to assist in the outreach to survivors and offer low-interest rate loans to individuals and businesses.
Registration was underway. By close of business May 6, more than 1,800 registrations had been received via the FEMA call center, online and mobile registration. Twenty-six inspectors were in the field, with 1,195 damage inspections completed.
FEMA Grants Help Bring Relief to Survivors
By May 20, more than 300 FEMA and state employees were working in the Montgomery Joint Field Office to bring a sense of normalcy back to the lives of those affected by the storms.
Three weeks after the storm, FEMA had approved more than $11 million in Individual Assistance grants, another federal partner, the SBA, had approved $1.6 million in low-interest, long-term loans. Millions more in Public Assistance dollars will help with the impact to municipalities and government services.
At peak operations, 11 Disaster Recovery Centers were operating in affected counties. More than 3,100 visits to the centers had been made to register for FEMA assistance, ask questions of state and federal officials and learn what programs were available.
At the busiest period, 52 FEMA housing inspectors were in the field, resulting in 95 percent of home damage inspections completed within two days – a rate that remains one month from the date of the disaster.
Also one month after the disaster, federal aid for Alabama tops $20 million with $15 million approved through FEMA’s Individuals and Households Program and another $5 million through approved SBA low-interest disaster loans.
With 38 FEMA housing inspectors now in the field, 95 percent of home damage inspections are being completed within two days.
As of Monday, June 2, six Disaster Recovery Centers remain open: two centers in Baldwin, two in Jefferson, and one center in each Limestone and Mobile counties. The SBA is operating a Disaster Loan Outreach center in Tuscaloosa, which also will have FEMA registration information available.
The deadline for FEMA registration is July 1.
Survivors can register at the recovery centers from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Saturday; by phone, call 800-621-3362 (FEMA) from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. local time, multilingual operators are available; TTY is 800-462-7585; by computer, go online to www.DisasterAssistance.gov; or by smartphone and tablet, use m.fema.gov.