Thursday, September 14, 2017

St. Clair County Airport (KPLR), Pell City, Alabama: Area helps Hurricane efforts

Hurricane Irma stretched across the Bahamas, slamming into Key West before heading in a northward track across the Florida peninsula and causing damage from Alabama to South Carolina. 

East Alabama and St. Clair County were under a tropical storm warning, prompting Gov. Kay Ivey to institute a State of Emergency and for local school systems to close Monday and Tuesday ahead of potential storm damage.

Fortunately, Irma weakened into a tropical depression but still brought rain, potential flooding, and high winds that caused some tree damage and power outages.

“Last night [Monday] we had less than a dozen downed trees to be reported. Only a few blocked roads and some power lines down. There could be and probably was more trees to fall on private property that we weren’t notified,” Ellen Tanner, Director of the St. Clair County EMA stated.“[There were] some power outages mainly in the Ashville, Springville, Pell City and Chula Vista locations and mostly in the higher elevations.”

Alabama Power reported that approximately 4,100 homes were without power on Monday evening, but crews were seen out at midnight working on the power lines to restore electricity.

Thirteen safe haven shelters opened Monday and remained open until the tropical storm warning was cancelled by the National Weather Service, but according to the St. Clair EMA, no one came to any of the shelters. 

Evacuees from Florida came to Pell City, Leeds, Talladega and surrounding areas. Students from Hobe Sound Bible College in Hobe Sound, Florida located north of West Palm Beach, found refuge at Bible Methodist Campground in Pell City.  

“We are deeply grateful to Conference President John Parker, Camp President Doug Eads and all of our friends in the Alabama Bible Methodist Conference for their gracious hospitality,” a representative of Hobe Sound Bible College released in an official statement.

Talladega Superspeedway opened their campground to evacuees, which then needed to be relocated to local churches for shelter due to high winds and rain. Many local churches opened their doors. Some local restaurants also offered free meals to Florida and Georgia residents.

Flight instructors from Epic Aviation Academy in New Smyrna brought their families, pets, and whatever belongings they could and landed their planes at St. Clair County airport on Sept. 8. Around 30 people and 14 airplanes filled the available spots.

“I got a call from the FAA from Georgia; they were running out of spots to park,” Bob Brown, Director of the St. Clair County airport said. There was no availability in local Pell City hotels, so instructors and their families were shuttled to Leeds for accommodations. 

“We’re doing our best to accommodate them,” Brown said. “We’re glad to have them.”

The City of Pell City along with The Pell City Ministerial Association and Pell City School System planned to collect items for Hurricane Harvey victims on Monday, but the collection was postponed until Sept. 18 because of local severe weather threats from Hurricane Irma. They will still be accepting supplies of bottled water, bleach, hygiene items, baby items, baby and adult diapers, wipes, hand sanitizer, bug spray, cleaning supplies and medical supplies such as bandages, antibacterial ointment, and peroxide.  No clothing items will be accepted please. 

Tony Lee of Springville gives blood at the LifeBlood bus.

Looking forward to future potential severe weather situations, the Pell City City Council approved application for a grant that would potentially supply weather radios to the community at the regular City Council meeting Monday night. Outdoor tornado warning sirens are proving not to be as effective in warning the public about potential severe weather, and the city will work to promote alternate channels of notification. While local schools and St. Clair County Courthouses were closed on Monday, the Pell City City Council met at their regular time, despite the blinking power. 

“I want to congratulate everyone in the city for acting so quickly,” Pell City Mayor Bill Pruitt said. “The Pell City Police Department collecting supplies, the Fire Department had already sent several people to help [with Hurricane Harvey relief]; people coming from every corner trying to help. I am real proud to see how quickly everyone mobilized on that.”

As Irma continued to be downgraded and moves further north, evacuees from Florida and Georgia will return to their homes, to see what remains. Residents of St. Clair County will continue to help with relief efforts, collecting supplies, volunteering, giving their money, time, and even blood in times of need. 

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