The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

State and Nation

May 3, 2014

Hundreds filled Ala shelters during storm outbreak


Gov. Robert Bentley said people sought refuge in 65 community shelters statewide, but state officials said they don't yet know how many people were housed. The director the state emergency agency, Art Faulkner, said the structures made a difference, however.

"There are areas that had zero capacity before April 27 that will now have the ability to shelter hundreds of their citizens," said Faulkner.

The latest storms were blamed for three deaths, and at least 30 were hurt. Two people died in a mobile home in Limestone County, and a University of Alabama swimmer was killed when the basement wall in a house collapsed while he was seeking shelter during a tornado warning.

In Tuscaloosa, during the storms both Monday and Tuesday, hundreds of people filled a reinforced event hall located inside a public school. A trickle of people became a flood once rain began falling and the winds picked up, workers said.

On the other side of town, Prewitt and her relatives were among dozens of people who rode out the storms in a concrete building constructed outside another school. Volunteer workers shut the thick steel door after the National Weather Service issued a tornado warning, and they didn't open it again until given an all-clear sign.

"The wind was blowing and lightning. It was scary," said Prewitt.

Sunseri said the shelters in Haleyville provided cover on Monday for around 630 people, or roughly 15 percent of the town's population of 4,122. The post-2011 building boom allowed the city to protect far more of its residents than previously.

"Before we could only shelter about 70 people in the basement of the public library," said Sunseri.

Bell Gandy of Tuscaloosa said the community shelters have provided not just physical safety by peace of mind. "We were mostly calm because we felt secure," said Gandy.

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