Walker Co building emergency shelters
Walker County was sparred by mother nature last week when tornadoes touched down on either side, in Whitfield County and Northeast Alabama.
Monday, May 5th 2014, 4:52 pm EDT
Walker County was sparred by mother nature last week when tornadoes touched down on either side, in Whitfield County and Northeast Alabama. But, residents were still on high alert and flocked to the few existing emergency shelters.
Walker County leaders say soon they'll have more options for seeking shelter from storms. Construction is set to begin soon on emergency shelters in three rural Walker County communities. They're being designed to withstand high winds and to hold as many people who live in those areas. Residents are covering the cost through the "SPLOST" or special purpose local option sales tax."
"We hope to be able to sustain ourselves better than we ever have in the past with training and facilities," Walker County Commissioner Bebe Heiskell said.
Leaders and residents say being prepared for severe weather has become a much bigger concern since the April 2011 tornadoes that caused widespread damage.
"We lost 47 properties completely off the books," Heiskell said.
She says many now panic about where to seek shelter during storms. Last week, the county opened up the civic center in Rock Spring and the emergency center in Villanow, but those in other outlying areas say there need to be more.
"I think they're very very important because a lot of these tornadoes are hitting at night," Hinkle resident Murlyne Miller said.
Even though tornadoes hit day or night, their requests have been heard. Now three communities will get emergency shelters like the one in Villanow.
One of the new shelters will go in the Hinkle community where a neighborhood was devastated by the April 27, 2011 tornadoes.
"That tornado missed me by four houses. It was very devastating. It destroyed one of my friend's house," Miller said.
Shelters will also be built in the Mount Pleasant and Cedar Grove communities. Each will serve multiple purposes with things like a museum, community centers, or fire hall attached. They'll be paid for with "SPLOST" money. Many residents in those three communities say they're glad voters opted to keep SPLOST last election.
"Used to in the south we didn't have these tornadoes but we're getting more warnings now. I think it would be very valuable. I think more people would be comfortable at night being put in these shelters," Miller said.
Commissioner Heiskell says the shelters take about a year to complete. The costs vary from around $250,000 to over a million dollars, depending on how many uses each facility is being built for.
GEMA grants are also being used to train people on disaster response and readiness and last year, Walker County got a new emergency notification system that sends warnings directly to residents' phones.