Tuscaloosa turning a corner, Maddox says

William Evans

The city has confirmed 40 deaths, 340 missing people and 9,691 homes without power, said Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox in a press conference Monday afternoon.

Despite the grim news of another confirmed death, the city has crossed a threshold in its planning for the recovery of areas affected by the second-deadliest tornado in U.S. history, Maddox said.

“I believe we’re at the point of turning a corner in Tuscaloosa,” he said. “There’s something that we’re doing right here in Tuscaloosa. It’s a resilient spirit. It’s like we’ve harnessed the American Dream. We’re going to fight. We’re going to crawl. We’re not going to quit no matter how hard it is.”

The city has put into motion strategies to organize the cleanup of debris.

Upon the city’s request and the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s approval, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will take control of the debris removal cleanup, which has a rough estimate of costing $70 to $100 million, Maddox said.

Eight garbage trucks will resume a partial route for the city.

“There is something comforting to get to some sense of normalcy that has escaped all of us in the past five days,” he said.

In the meantime, the wind will have to take the place of trash trucks, a resource the city needs more of, in removing the heavy debris littering the streets.

The destruction of Tuscaloosa’s local Emergency Management Agency has troubled the city’s ability to coordinate the thousands of volunteers who have pledged to help with recovery efforts.

“The process has not been as organized because we lost our Emergency Management Agency,” he said. “It doesn’t even have a business card. The agency that was required to handle volunteer service no longer exists.”

Along with establishing in the week ahead a volunteer registration center, the city will now require volunteers to show credentials before helping in certain recovery efforts.

“For volunteers to be in the impacted zones, they will have to have credentials,” he said. “We want to be strategic in how we put volunteers into the field in the weeks and months ahead. We don’t want volunteers in one area where we’re doing utility work, and thus they can’t be as effective, and it’s also for their health and safety as well.”

FEMA, with four customer relations teams, is meeting with people who have registered with FEMA to assess their housing needs. FEMA is looking for vacant housing that can provide displaced people with permanent and temporary housing, although Maddox said he believes the city does not have enough permanent housing for those in need, who number in the thousands.

The city also hopes to release each evening the names of people on the missing person’s list, Maddox said.

In its search for missing persons, the city will likely unearth the bad news of more deaths.

“I’m hopeful and prayerful, but the longer that we go through this, the more that I become concerned that this number is going to be more devastating than any of us could ever imagine,” he said. “With this issue of missing persons, it has been hills and valleys. At some points you think the numbers are too large. It has to be a statistical abnormality, but then more information comes in and you think this may be real.”

The missing person’s list continues to change as more information flows in.

“What happens is for every name we seem to remove, we seem to add another one back on,” he said.

Charlie Sheen’s arrival this morning in Tuscaloosa will help prevent the nation from forgetting about Tuscaloosa’s condition, Maddox said.

“Anytime we can get national attention about the plight of Tuscaloosa, I think it’s a positive thing,” he said.