County residents were well prepared for Dennis

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 13, 2005

As Hurricane Dennis spiraled ever closer to the Alabama shoreline this weekend, thousands of Shelby County residents prepared for the worst.

Dennis had made landfall with maximum sustained winds of 120 miles per hour at about 2:25 p.m. Sunday near Pensacola, Fla., bringing heavy winds and storm surges that reached 12 feet in some places.

The storm, which was originally predicted to make a westerly path toward Mississippi, shifted its path early Sunday and set a direct route up the west side of Alabama, leaving areas of Shelby County directly in the line of the notorious &uot;right side&uot; of the storm.

But soon after making landfall as a category three storm, Dennis deteriorated into a category one storm, with maximum sustained winds of 80 miles per hour.

Alabama Gov. Bob Riley addressed the media Sunday afternoon after it became apparent the majority of the state would be spared from serious damage.

&uot;We are truly fortunate,&uot; Riley said. &uot;The major damage we were anticipating along the coast did not materialize.&uot;

Alabama Power reported Monday that more than 250,000 residents in the state were without power and more than 71,000 of those reports came from Jefferson and Shelby counties.

Gov. Riley expressed confidence that power would be restored quickly to affected residents and said he felt Alabama handled Dennis well.

&uot;Alabama was as prepared as it could be,&uot; he said.

Memories of power outages and downed trees from 2004’s Hurricane Ivan quickly came back to residents in the county this weekend as they prepared for Dennis, and many residents decided that this time they were not taking chances.

&uot;We lost power for awhile,&uot; Linda Johnston of Pelham said. &uot;We thought we were prepared, but we lost some of the food in our refrigerator and ended up eating out a lot.&uot;

Johnston purchased two crates of bottled water, bread and pop-tarts from the Wal-Mart Supercenter in Calera Saturday to make sure her family was ready this time.

&uot;The likelihood of something bad happening is small,&uot; she said. &uot;But it can’t hurt to be prepared.&uot;

Johnston voiced the opinions of many Shelby County residents who found themselves inconvenienced by last year’s storm.

According to local grocery store managers, items such as bread, water and batteries ran low a lot faster then in past years when a hurricane approached the state.

&uot;The rush really started Friday,&uot; Columbiana’s Piggly Wiggly manager Don Fallen said on Saturday.

&uot;We had to start working on getting more bread and water.&uot;

On Saturday afternoon the store was quiet, but Fallen said that he would be looking for them to sell a large amount of the typical &uot;hurricane&uot; items during the next few days.

At the Calera Wal-Mart, staff members kept the aisle stocked with &uot;weather-related&uot; items manager Grace Gibson said.

&uot;We had the option of having trucks come in with emergency supplies within 24-hours,&uot; she said.

The American Red Cross operated four shelters in Shelby County during the storm, but Shelby County Emergency Management supervisor Don Greene said none of the locations were full even at the height of the storm.

&uot;The shelters were manned starting on Saturday,&uot; Greene said. &uot;But none of them topped 50 percent capacity.&uot;

Greene said the Red Cross operated shelters at the First Baptist Church of Columbiana, which housed 43 people at its peak; United Methodist Church of Alabaster housed 97 people at its peak; the Church at Brook Hills which housed three people at its peak and the Pelham Civic Center, which provide shelter to 340 people at its peak.

Civic Center shelter director Roy Jowers said the shelter was prepared to handle more than 600 people from across the area if necessary.

He said the shelter would stay open as long as it was needed to keep people safe.

Greene said he believed the county was well prepared for the worst Hurricane Dennis had to offer and that there had only been minor reports of damage around the area.

&uot;Compared to our initial expectations, we came out smelling like a rose,&uot; he said