The April 27 tornado that ripped through the Franklin County, Ala., town of Phil Campbell left debris covering vacant lots and wooded areas. The town's mayor worries that without financial help much of it may not be cleaned in the near future.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has helped with much of the town's cleanup but has said it can't pay to remove debris from unimproved areas. Mayor Jerry Mays said that's where much of the debris from the destroyed homes and businesses ended up.
"This is blocking our long-time recovery," Mays said.
At least 26 people were killed in the tornado that destroyed about one-third of the town's 1,200 buildings. The storms that tore across Alabama on April 27 killed more than 240 people.
Besides the tons of roofing parts, insulation, ruined clothing, wood with nails in it and other debris that remains scattered around town, Mays worries that there may be guns buried in some of that debris - the result of a gun shop - L.C.'s Custom Gun Work - that was blown away by tornado. The storm was so powerful that the store's owner, Larry Carpenter, said it blew the earrings off his wife's ears and a cell phone out of her pocket. Neither Carpenter nor his wife was injured.
Mays said the debris "is still piled up" in the area around where the gun shop was located. He said the shop was destroyed and that the debris, including more than 300 guns, ended up mostly in a wooded area behind the shop. Carpenter said some of the weapons were recovered, but he thinks as many as 200 still may be missing.
Mike Stone, a FEMA spokesman, said federal law does not allow FEMA to pay for the cleanup of the unimproved areas such as vacant lots and wooded areas. But he said FEMA has provided $1.8 million for debris cleanup in Phil Campbell and surrounding areas in Franklin County.
Stone said FEMA officials are continuing to work with officials in the area to help them with long term recovery.
Democratic state Rep. Johnny Mack Morrow, of Red Bay, whose district includes Phil Campbell, said he believes FEMA is leaving its job undone by not helping remove debris from the unimproved areas.
"This decision is completely unacceptable," Morrow said. He said the city, county and state do not have the resources to clean up what's left of the debris.
Franklin County Probate Judge Barry Moore, who is also County Commission president, said he met Friday with some county and state officials and he is not giving up on getting more federal money for debris cleanup in Phil Campbell and in rural areas in Franklin County. He said he doesn't know where else to turn.
"The county doesn't have the money" to remove the debris, that was once homes and businesses. Mays said the city does not have the money to do it.
The gun shop owner, Carpenter, said the remains of his business, his family home and his classic 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air remain in the woods behind his home, and he's not sure how it will ever be cleaned up.
"We used to walk in those woods. Kids used to play in those woods. My house is now in those woods," Carpenter said.