City coping with 434 missing persons

Katherine Martin

The number of fatalities in the city of Tuscaloosa remains at 39 and the number of injuries at 1000 or more, Mayor Walt Maddox said Saturday night in a press conference at city hall.

Currently, there are 434 reports of missing persons, he said. Today, 234 of those reported missing yesterday were confirmed not missing, but more people called in with more names of those unaccounted for.

“I do continue to grow concerned about this number,” Maddox said. “I was very hopeful that I could come out and tell you tonight that that number had been drastically reduced, but we continue to see a high number, so we don’t know what the outcome will be. I am prayerful that our fatality number will not rise, we will see.”

Maddox said that five cadaver dog teams searched the rubble for bodies and will continue to do so tomorrow in areas where some of the missing may be.

In addition to cadaver teams and rescue crews, the city will also try using helicopter flare technology that detects body heat from within the rubble, he said. This technology has been used to aid in other disasters.

The Tuscaloosa Police Department will release a list of those deceased within the city.

Maddox said as of today, the water pressure system has returned to normal and he will sign an executive order eliminating water restriction.

The boil alert has been reduced to the areas bounded east of Kicker Road, west of Hurricane Creek and Veterans Memorial Parkway and Jack Warner Parkway to the north and south. Everyone else is free to use water normally. Maddox said there have been no wide-scale reports of looting.

“We don’t have any outstanding reports of looting,” he said. “Have we had issues where people have tried to break the curfew, yes. I believe we made three arrests last night.”

In those three arrests, Maddox said, the individuals were in the affected area past curfew and police had probably cause to arrest.

There will be five garbage drop-off centers at Verner Elementary, Arcadia Elementary, Bryan High School, Westlawn Middle School and Skyland Elementary between 8:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. Normal garbage pickup will resume tomorrow, but Maddox asked residents to be patient with the service.

Maddox said FEMA has a process of placing those in need of temporary housing. First, he said they will try to fill vacancies around the city and then address areas where temporary housing could potentially go.

The City has given FEMA 12 or more areas to assess for temporary housing.

At the press conference, Maddox applauded the volunteer aid in the city.

At the eight City of Tuscaloosa aid stations alone, Maddox said there were more than 1400 registered volunteers that served 9,427 individuals.

This doesn’t count the hundreds, if not thousands of individuals who were served by churches and social service agencies throughout Tuscaloosa, he said.

“What a wonderful story we have to tell,” he said. “From the beginning of this, I have been determined not let this tragedy define this city. If we’re going to be defined, it’s going to be about the resiliency of our people and generosity and compassion we’ve received in on of the worst circumstances.”

By next week, Maddox said with the help of the Alabama Emergency Management Agency, he hopes to help organize the volunteer services.

Maddox also encouraged volunteers not to grow weary in their efforts.

“Stay strong, and stay with us,” he said. “This is a marathon. We have been struck by one of the worst natural disasters in the history of this country. The death toll and the number of missing is probably more than anyone can stand, but we are going to continue to do anything we know to restore hope and confidence to Tuscaloosa.”

Individuals can also donate to the relief effort at www.givetuscaloosa.com.

Maddox was also asked whether he had heard news of Charlie Sheen planning a visit to Tuscaloosa. “Well, he had to top the President,” he said. “We don’t know if Charlie Sheen is coming, if he does, I’ll meet him at the airport.”

In his closing statement, Maddox reiterated his belief in Tuscaloosa as a shining city on a hill.

“We’ve got a very, very long, difficult road ahead of us,” he said. “This is a massive undertaking, whereas this was a disaster of proportions that is even difficult to imagine in Hollywood. There are going to be issues and crises that just can’t be solved easily. But we are going to continue to work as hard as we know how to bring Tuscaloosa back.”

City Numbers: 205-248-5045 for volunteers 205-248-4616 for missing people