Morrow recognizes ‘unknown heroes’ from April tornadoesPublished 6:02am Saturday, July 7, 2012
A group of officials gathered Friday morning to honor a few people Rep. Johnny Mack Morrow considers to be relatively unknown heroes during the April 27, 2011, tornado disaster in Franklin County.
Morrow told the group gathered at the Franklin County Commission office that many people worked behind the scenes last April to help in the recovery process across the county, but no one had mentioned the people involved in making sure a main water source in the county remained uncontaminated.
Morrow said that after the tornadoes came through, many chicken houses, particularly in the East Franklin community, were destroyed, and the 200 mph winds scattered dead poultry and debris for miles.
In the hours and days immediately following the tornado’s destruction, all focus was on the people who were lost or the people who had lost loved ones and homes.
But Morrow said attention eventually had to be paid to the poultry situation.
“On May 2, the National Weather Service said there was going to be a three-inch rain coming, so I called Tony Hodge who was manning the East Franklin command center to see if all those dead chickens had been buried yet,” Morrow said. “I don’t know if people realize how the terrain is out there where those chickens were, but it they were left there and it came a three-inch rain, all those dead chickens and the debris would have run off into Upper Big Bear Lake, which provides drinking water to Haleyville, Bear Creek, Phil Campbell and other smaller communities.”
Morrow said Hodge reported that the Alabama Forestry Commission was doing their best to get the chickens buried, but with their resources being pulled here and there, the job wasn’t going to get done fast enough.
“I got on the phone with Spencer Collier, who is the director of the Alabama Department of Homeland Security, Alabama EMA director Art Faulkner and the commissioner of agriculture to see if we would be able to get money to pay someone to take care of these dead chickens,” Morrow said. “But after all that calling, I couldn’t find anyone who could give me a solid answer as to whether or not we could get the funding to pay someone back if they did this work.”
Morrow said FEMA had basically said that if county officials saw a possible health hazard, to take care of it immediately.
“We just decided to take care of this situation, make sure the drinking water remained uncontaminated, and just worry about the money later,” Morrow said. “The people’s safety had to come first.”
Enter Ralton Baker, a longtime county board of education member and resident of the East Franklin community who owns a contracting business specializing in debris clean-up.
Morrow said when Baker was approached about helping to bury the chickens, he quickly agreed, even though no one could tell him when or if he and his workers would get paid for their labor.
“Ralton loves this county and his East Franklin community and he really stepped up to the plate,” Morrow said. “Because of him, we were able to avert a potential disaster that would have contaminated drinking water for people who had enough to worry about as it was.”
Morrow said after the job was finished, he and Franklin County Probate Judge Barry Moore continued to search for ways to make sure Baker and his workers were repaid for their services.
“We met with many people about this matter, including Cindy Massey from the governor’s office’s SERVE Committee, to see what could be done,” Moore said. “Ms. Massey got all the information about what we had done to remove the chickens and prevent the water contamination and how much it cost for us to have that done.”
Moore said the information was passed along to the Governor’s Emergency Relief Fund Committee, which is a committee of seven to eight business people across the state would could determine which needs were the most pressing and award funding accordingly.
“When we received a phone call that our request had been approved, we were so appreciative,” Moore said. “This was really a group effort from the very beginning, from getting the chickens buried to finally securing the funding.”
Bobby Humphrey, a former University of Alabama football standout and a member of the GERF Committee, was present on Friday to present the check.
“This committee was appointed by the governor to be the last resort for people who still had unmet needs once other avenues of funding had been exhausted, like insurance and FEMA funding,” Humphrey said. “The purpose was to make sure the citizens of Alabama were served and helped.
“All of our funding comes from private sources and money that is raised, so we make sure to review each request and make sure that people’s needs are being met.
“When we reviewed this request, we knew we wanted to honor it because of the work that had already been done so selflessly in good faith.
“From what I have seen, there is a tremendous amount of leadership in this county, and that kind of leadership inspired the faith it took to move forward with this project even though no money could be promised.”