The calm after the storm: Pelham begins cleanup efforts

Published 12:28 pm Tuesday, March 30, 2021

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By NATHAN HOWELL | Staff Writer

PELHAM— Cleanup has begun in the city of Pelham following the devastating tornadoes that damaged around 50 homes in the city on March 25.

Pelham Public Works Manager Mickey Dunnaway said that his team has been working hard to ensure that roadways are clear and that general debris in the neighborhoods is moved to the curbs and taken off to the landfill.

“We have picked up around 103 loads of brush that we have picked up and hauled off since Friday,” Dunnaway explained. “We have about 25 of us that work in the landscape division of the street department that have been working on this since then.”

Immediately following the storms, the crews assembled and got to work ensuring that the roadways were passible in the neighborhoods, particularly in the Crosscreek and Chandalar communities.

“It was crazy when we first got there,” Dunnaway said. “Our teams kept level heads though. We just try to do what we are supposed to do and not panic. We kept safety at the forefront and just made sure we had our boots and chaps on and kept chain-sawing away until the roads were clear.”

The crews then moved on to picking up and removing brush from downed limbs and trees which is the first major goal of the cleanup. Once that is completed the goal will then be to start removing mixed debris, construction debris and house debris, according to Dunnaway.

Aside from the 25 people on his team, Dunnaway said that they were assisted by groups from the cities of Alabaster and Hoover who came in and provided valuable help to clear up the damage.

There were other groups out helping in the relief efforts including churches, students and their parents who came out on busses to provide general help to the families in the area.

According to Pelham City Schools Superintendent Dr. Scott Coefield, “as soon as the tornado passed, PCS had employees ready to assess damage and clean up on our school campuses. Then, we had several student groups and employees reach out to be a part of the recovery efforts.”

These volunteers ultimately assisted in tasks like debris clean-up and organizing and distributing supplies.

“We still have lots of people ready to help in any way. It’s really amazing to see how our community cares and comes together to help each other,” Coefield said.

Though much progress had been made, there were still fallen trees laying on top of houses and cars, which unfortunately cannot be moved until the residents are able to coordinate with their insurance companies so there is still a long way to go for these families.

Despite this, Dunnaway said that the response from residents has all been positive towards him and his crew.

“I haven’t had one single person be negative about it,” he said. “There are a lot of people we have had to tell we can’t help them. Everybody is understandable considering the circumstances.”

Overall, it was the hard and tiring work of the Public Works crews which helped to restore some sense of normalcy by removing the tons of brush that the storms knocked loose.

“I’ve got a great bunch of guys. I haven’t had one person act tired, or wish they weren’t out there,” Dunnaway said. “They are working a lot of hours chain-sawing and dragging limbs. I am proud of my staff for sure. Especially our lead supervisor Jason Lemley, who has been out talking to residents and helping me when I have been in meetings.”

Outside of these neighborhoods there is also an ongoing effort at the Campus 124 development where many trees were knocked down, and the CoreFit facility sustained major damage. The city is currently inspecting the facility to determine the full extent of the damage.

The scene in Pelham differed from other cities, as the extent of the damage was far greater in a more condensed area than in other towns. This is why the effort was more focused on having the city come in first and do what they can.

However, citizen volunteers came in to support the relief efforts in other ways like donations events through the Pelham Recreation Center which is being distributed by Crosscreek Baptist Church.

Congressman Gary Palmer came out on March 29 to survey the damage as well, touring these neighborhoods that were hit and speaking with city leaders about the ongoing efforts in the area.

The road to recovery for Pelham will be a long one, but there are a multitude of teams working together to ensure that the process is as smooth as possible and that everyone is taken care of.