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May 1, 2014

Governor visits Limestone damage

— Gov. Robert Bentley and wife Dianne were in Limestone County Wednesday morning embracing teary-eyed victims of Monday’s EF3 tornado, which ripped through the Coxey and Clements community.

The governor surveyed a portion of the tornado-ravaged area, including Billy Barb’s Court and the Clements Volunteer Fire Department.

Bentley believes he has probably seen 90 tornadoes since he was elected governor.

“You cannot help but get emotionally involved in everyone that you see,” Bentley said.

He recalled watching the radar Monday night with his wife and making the decision to declare a state of emergency. “We knew it was coming this way,” he said. “You never get to the point that this doesn't move you when you see all the destruction and you see loss of life. You can't help but be moved.”

Bentley said it is always an honor to visit this area of the state. “Unfortunately, it’s difficult to come in times like this,” he said. “We have come into North Alabama too often since I’ve been governor dealing with tornadoes. But as we come today and look at what safe rooms can do and how areas of the state look after each other, it makes me proud of the fact that we have come so far in preparation.”

Dianne Bentley said it’s terrible to witness such destruction, but that she also sees goodness in the amount of lives that were saved. “In the midst of tragedy God is still good,” she said. “God has his hand on us.”

The governor took time to speak with Barbara Smiley, owner of Billy Barb’s Court, where two were killed in Monday’s tornado. Those killed were 60-year-old Dorothy Jean Hollis and 33-year-old Carlton Earl Hollis.

Smiley explained how 80 people rode out the storm in an old community storm shelter on the property and expressed how she wished five others would have made their way to shelter as well.

Bentley said he was in prayer for the family of those who lost their lives. “It is difficult to see lives lost like that,” he said.

He told Smiley that having a shelter saved lives in the community.

“We have to rejoice in the fact that even though that was an old shelter there, 80 people were able to get into that shelter and 80 people were saved,” Bentley said.

Bentley also toured a community safe room behind Clements Volunteer Fire Department where 200 residents sought shelter. Bentley told Clements Chief Jesse Rager that 2011 has taught all a major lesson. Bentley believes preparation and warning systems work. He wants to work to get more community shelters in place, especially in mobile home parks.

After declaring a state of emergency, the governor has also requested a disaster declaration from President Barrack Obama to receive federal assistance such as debris removal, overtime pay for crews and related costs.

Alabama Emergency Management Agency Director Art Faulkner said the declaration would help the state, local government and volunteer agencies with response costs.

Limestone County EMA Director Rita White said the most critical needs are shelters and places to live for those affected by the storm. She added debris removal has been and will be a huge undertaking.

“When we get the debris moved that is when people can get back in and see what their needs are,” White said. “We are looking at immediate needs right now and determining what those needs are.”

Mayor Ronnie Marks said he anticipates debris removal in the city of Athens to be at least three times the amount it was after the April 27, 2011 tornadoes. “Mainly because it touched our city limits more than it did in 2011,” Marks said, adding that it will most likely be a 60-to-90-day clean up effort.

Bentley, White and others thanked those who have provided assistance from utility workers and volunteer fire departments to elected officials, friends, volunteers and all those in between.

Those that want to help storm victims can donate to the Governor’s Emergency Relief Fund, which Bentley said stayed in the state and is for unmet needs.

“I want to thank everyone who has worked so hard, all our friends and neighbors who have come to help each other,” Bentley said. “That is what we need to do. This storm is like any other storm. Everyone needs to chip in and help each other. We are going to get through this like we have the rest of them.”

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