About 15 residents from the Shoal Creek Valley area came to Big Oak Girls Ranch Thursday night as part of an open forum there, held by Gov. Robert Bentley’s Tornado Recovery Action Council. They were there to take part in a “community conversation,” to tell their stories.
“It was just devastating,” said Carl Smith, a resident from the Valley. “Just devastating.”
Ron Gray, executive director for TRAC, said the group was there “to listen to y’all.” He broke the group up into smaller groups, to answer a series of questions.
“The governor wanted to make sure we studied these storms, and we tried to learn from them,” Gray said. “So he formed this Tornado Recovery Action Council, to study the storms and develop a set of action-oriented plans to prepare the state.”
The tornadoes that ripped through the state of Alabama on April 27 cut a wide swath all the way across, and killed 13 people in Shoal Creek. Thursday night’s forum was the seventh and final such forum.
“We started in Rainsville, covering Dekalb County, kind of northeast Alabama,” said Gray. “We went to Hackleburg and Phil Campbell later in the week. Last week, we were in Tuscaloosa, we were in Pratt City and then Cullman. And then Monday night we were in Elmore County – Lake Martin, Tallapoosa County area.”
Questions ranged from how the residents received warnings, to how the local entities responded.
Gray said he has been surprised by the positive nature of most people.
“I think most people realize that the response was almost overwhelming, in how we responded to such a huge disaster,” he said. “The state jumped in immediately, the cities, the counties – they all did their job and they did their jobs to the best of their abilities.
“I’ve been very proud and impressed that people have not come in complaining about how they were treated. They’ve come in and said, ‘Everything was fine, but we feel like we can do it better next time.’”
The next step for the council: compiling its data and taking it back to Bentley.
“We are still in the input-gathering phase,” Gray said.
“We’ll finish that in the October-November time frame. We will finish formulating our recommendations, and we’re going to deliver it to the governor by the end of the year.
“The recommendations will consist of a combination of things … that people can implement. We’re hoping it’s a mix of things, for the legislature, plus private entities and county governments.”
Contact Will Heath at firstname.lastname@example.org.