published Tuesday, August 9th, 2011

Storm cleanup after tornadoes in the Chattanooga area is winding down


by Cliff Hightower
James Day, top center, employee with Byrd Brothers of Wilson, NC., uses a self loader to remove downed trees from the lawn of the John A. Patten Recreation Center on Monday in Lookout Valley. Richard Doss stands back after cutting. Chattanooga is cleaning up the last of brush from the April tornado outbreak.
James Day, top center, employee with Byrd Brothers of Wilson, NC., uses a self loader to remove downed trees from the lawn of the John A. Patten Recreation Center on Monday in Lookout Valley. Richard Doss stands back after cutting. Chattanooga is cleaning up the last of brush from the April tornado outbreak.
Photo by Tim Barber.
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The Rev. Bill Akers stood in a yard in Lookout Valley, pointing across a small valley at two stumps, gnarled remnants rising out of barren dirt in a place once flush with trees.

Just a few hundred yards away, brush lined the curb of Parker Lane — including wood from the former patch of woods — waiting to be picked up by city contractors.

“There’s a lot to get up,” said Akers, the pastor of Wauhatchie United Methodist Church.

Chattanooga has entered its third month of cleanup after tornadoes ravaged Southeast Tennessee, Alabama and North Georgia in April.

The city hired a private contractor — Byrd Brothers Emergency Services of North Carolina — on June 13 to help collect most of the debris. Since then, more than 100,000 square feet of brush, wood and trash has been picked up off the side of city roads, city records show.

The contractors are close to finishing up the first sweep of the entire city and will start a second sweep in probably about a week, said Justin Holland, the city’s sanitary supervisor.

Several tornadoes rolled through the region April 27, killing about 80 people and leaving homes and businesses from Rainsville, Ala., to Ringgold, Ga., to Apison in ruins.

Straight-line winds and tornadoes also left debris — from shredded roof shingles to ripped-up trees — piled up in Chattanooga yards, then moved to the curbs of Chattanooga.

Holland said Monday the contractor was in South Chattanooga and Lookout Valley, getting the last of the debris. Fifteen trucks were working the area, he said.

On Monday, truck after truck drove up and down Kelly’s Ferry Road, hauling out load after load of debris. Stacks of cut-up tree trunks lined the roads, some up to 10 feet tall. Stumps poked up from yard after yard.

Picking up the piles

Akers had come to help the yard of Mary Lambert, one of his church members, to cut up a tree branch that had fallen in her yard. Back in April, about eight of her trees toppled during storms, so he and others from the church helped saw them apart and put them on the side of the road, he said.

Standing in Lambert’s backyard, he looked at an area that used to be nothing but trees. The only thing now remaining is a hundred foot section of dirt.

At least, though, the contractors came by and picked up the brush.

“The city’s doing what they can,” he said.

Mark Riley, whose 72-year-old mother-in-law lives on Parker Lane, sees things differently.

Two trees fell in her yard in April, he said, and the family hired its own contractors to cut them up and put them on the side of the road. A city contractor told them it wouldn’t be picked up because a private contractor cut it, he said.

“They told us, ‘If you had someone come in there other than a family member, we’re not picking it up,’” he said.

He said his mother-in-law ended up paying almost $5,000 to get the trees cut and hauled out.

“I’ve seen trucks up and down this road for three solid weeks,” he said. “Why don’t you come do it?”

Holland said there are Federal Emergency Management Agency regulations that prevent city contractors from picking up work done by private ones. If the city picks up such debris, it won’t be reimbursed by FEMA, he said.

FEMA representatives are going across the city, marking piles that might have been put there by a private contractor, he said.

But once the city’s contract crews get done, anything left will still be picked up, even if city crews do it themselves, he said.

“The city’s going to make sure it’s picked up,” he said. “Regardless.”

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