Hurricane Irma Slows Tornado Recovery In Albany

Sep 9, 2017

The contents of a child’s room–baby dolls, blankets, toys–line the ditch in front of Cary Westbrook’s house in Radium Springs not far outside Albany. She hasn’t lived there since January. The windows are nailed dark with nine month old plywood and the roof is gone.


“It’s not habitable at all. At all,” Westbrook said.


That’s because her house, along with almost every home on her street, was among those nearly obliterated by the second of two tornadoes to hit Southwest Georgia back in January. The second storm killed 19 people.


Now, even as people in and around Albany are still trying to repair their homes nine months after the tornadoes, most of Southwest Georgia has been placed under a hurricane watch. Hurricane Irma most likely will come here as a Category 1 storm after blowing through Florida.


That’s why Saturday morning the ALBANY GA STORM/TORNADO RECOVERY 2017 HELP PAGE, coordinated by Marla Edmonds, switched from recovery mode to storm preparation. Working with Dougherty County public works, the group was filling sand bags to give away for free to people living in the Flint River floodplain, 20 bags per car.


“We have still a good bit of work to do,” Edmonds said of the shift from tornado recovery. “You know, we had just kind of pulled together and were trying to meet deadlines with FEMA as far as debris pickup.”


Edmonds said that tree root systems damaged by the January storms would be even more vulnerable to hurricane force winds. Edmonds’ group is also working with the Red Cross to quickly train volunteer first responders before Irma.


Judy Bowles runs Keep Albany-Dougherty Beautiful. She’s a veteran of cleaning up the Flint River Flood of 1994 when Tropical Storm Alberto filled the river to a crest of 43 feet. Since January, her group has been removing the root balls of downed trees. They aren’t done.


“Oh, we’re still devastated. [We] will be for another year or two years,” Bowles said.


Back in Radium Springs, it looks like the January tornadoes just happened yesterday. The home across from Lois Hernandez is half demolished and seemingly abandoned.  Hernandez has heard about Irma’s track. She still lacks a full roof and walls to her home. She said Irma may leave her few options.


“Mortgage not going to go away,” she said. “You either try to fix it again or you know, you find some other way around it. That’s all I can think to do.”


So what will she do if Irma comes through Southwest Georgia as projected?


“I can’t do anything. But hope for the best,” she said.