RINGGOLD, Ga. -- A judge has ordered five hotels destroyed by an April tornado to start cleaning up their property or the owners may be fined.
Ringgold Municipal Judge Gene Lowery said he told several hotel and motel owners they had until Nov. 22 to begin cleanup, after city officials filed a citation saying the properties were violating city code.
"They are supposed to make a major dent in the cleanup along Alabama Highway," Lowery said.
Nearly every commercial building along Alabama Highway in Ringgold was destroyed or severely damaged April 27, but many of the buildings have been cleared away, boarded up or rebuilt. But six months after the EF4 tornado plowed through town, five ruined hotels have remained relatively stagnant in their cleanup efforts.
Hotel owners cited hang-ups in getting insurance money for the delay.
City Code Enforcement Officer Thomas Catlett recently filed paperwork in city court against the owners, including Naren Patel, who owns four of the damaged hotels in town, including Quality Inn, Days Inn and Super 8.
Patel said he planned to rebuild but was waiting on insurance settlements to begin cleanup. After the judge's order, he said he decided to pay for the work out of pocket, and cleanup has begun at the Quality Inn.
"I'm working seven days a week, trying to do as much as I can," he said.
Lowery said he heard the case against hotel owners and the city in October and another hearing is set for Nov. 22 to decide if any fines will be imposed.
Catlett acknowledged that he filed the citation, but referred further questions to City Manager Dan Wright.
Wright said in an email that three of the hotels were in the process of cleanup, but he didn't return calls or emails seeking comment on the city's citation against the owners.
Earlier this week at the Quality Inn, a trackhoe scraped crinkled metal off the pavement and dumped the tons of debris into giant bins around the wrecked structure. By Wednesday, Patel said, the outside of the hotel was clean, but workers were still cleaning the inside.
He said he plans next week to began demolishing the Days Inn, which is located closer to the highway and adjacent to the newly finished McDonald's.