State needs protection from tornados

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 28, 2001

Last week, Alabama lawmakers brought to Washington's attention an issue of profound importance to the health and welfare of the citizens of our state: adequate protection against tornadoes. The US House of Representatives voted 401 to 6 to allow local communities to use federal community development block grant funds to construct storm shelters in mobile home parks.

Unfortunately, Alabama and tornadoes are all too familiar with one another. Our state has made national headlines in recent years for some of the worst tornado-related destruction. Last December 16th was a nightmare for many residents in north central Alabama who were in the path of a level P4 tornado. On that tragic day, 11 Alabamians lost their lives in what was to be one of the most destructive tornadoes in US history.

In the Wiregrass on that same day, another tornado appeared out of the blue destroying more homes and property, injuring others and tragically taking still another life. Geneva, Newton, Pinckard, and Abbeville were among those to sustain damage and loss from the December 16th storms. Homes, businesses and lives were disrupted as the storm hit in the middle of the day and without warning.

According to the National Weather Service's warning and forecast office near Birmingham, 43 tornadoes struck our state last year-double our annual average Over the last 50 years Alabama has seen 1,095 tornadoes, of which 276 traveled through Southeast Alabama. Many of us remember some of the more violent of these storms such as the deadly Oak Grove tornado of April 1998 and the Palm Sunday tornado of 1994 that devastated Piedmont. Already in 2001, Southeast Alabama has suffered at least two storm deaths when a suspected tornado touched down near Red Level in Covington County on March 12'h

The weather service points out that our state's worst occurrence was March 21, 1932 when two waves of tornadoes swept across Alabama killing more than 300 people. For sure, weather forecasting technology has dramatically improved since 193Z. High tech computers, Doppler radar and satellites all aid the weather service in warning Alabamians about approaching storms. However, all too often, many either don't hear the warnings or do not have access to adequate shelter. More should be done to aid communities to address the critical issue of tornado preparedness.

Last Thursday, the US House approved legislation introduced by Congressman Spencer Bachus' R-Vestavia Hills, which will give communities the flexibility to use their federal community development block grant funds to build tornado-safe storm shelters in mobile home parks. Current law only allows such funds to be used for shelter construction in low-to-moderate income housing communities and apartment buildings.

I was proud to both cosponsor and vote for the Tornado Shelters Act. This is a necessary revision of federal law that will certainly save lives in the future.