Camp Hill still needs help months after storm

The small town was devastated by hail and a mass shooting

By: - June 21, 2023 10:05 am
A water tower saying Welcome to Camp Hill rises in the background over a tarp-covered roof.

The Camp Hill water tower is photographed over the hail damaged roof of Camp Hill Baptist Church, now serving as the command center, Monday, April 24, 2023, in Camp Hill, Ala. (Stew Milne for Alabama Reflector)

Camp Hill is still on the mend months after a hailstorm devastated the area, but dozens of residents are at risk of losing their homes without intervention.

The town is recovering in steps but people in the town are still at risk of losing things, whether that’s through high-interest loans or storm damage.

Warren Tidwell, who volunteers as a community resilience coordinator, said that a community center has been completed and community meetings have begun. They have printers donated by an accounting firm in Auburn.

“The good news is that a little town is starting to come together and work together because we know we’ve got to do it ourselves,” he said.

The town was first struck by a powerful hailstorm that took out roofs and led to a mold infestation. A few weeks later, gunfire erupted at a Sweet 16 party for a Camp Hill teenager. Four people were killed, including the teen’s brother., and at least 28 people were injured. 

Camp Hill was denied a disaster declaration that would have provided the residents with individual grants, Tidwell said in a Tuesday phone interview.

“We did not get the individual disaster assistance and I and many other state organizations are pretty appalled that that did not occur, but doesn’t matter now, because we’ve got to figure this out ourselves,” he said.

Tidwell said that the role of the Federal Emergency Management Agency is to make people safe and sanitary, not necessarily whole. As a result, FEMA does not help with mold, which can technically be mitigated. For some residents of town, who might be disabled with twelve feet high ceilings, that might not be practical.

The Regional FEMA office said that “a major disaster declaration was approved for the state of Alabama but only for Public Assistance (debris removal, emergency protective measures, and public infrastructure damage), including for Tallapoosa County. “

The office said that the impact from the event “was not such severity and magnitude to warrant the designation of Individual Assistance under FEMA-4710-DR-AL.” They said multiple factors were considered when weighing a governor’s request, including state and local resources, insurance, disaster impacted population, casualties, disaster related unemployment and impact to community infrastructure.

“We may have discovered a bit of a doughnut hole that we fall into when it comes to disasters,” Tidwell said.

Many of the people who live in Camp Hill do not have insurance. Tidwell said that, consequently, some people in town have taken out predatory loans for car and home damage. A person who might not have had a car payment now has one or has seen their car payment skyrocket each month by hundreds of dollars.

“Even though they’re in better situations, their physical safety and everything, their financial situations are even more precarious in a lot of cases,” he said.

Tidwell has been helping residents who have inquired about United States Department of Agriculture grants. He said that he’s worried about dozens of homes becoming uninhabitable, but he used to be worried about hundreds.

Right now, they are working on three home repairs, and Tidwell said young people in town have been helping. He said every time it rains, he gets five to six calls about leaky homes.

He said that many people in Camp Hill commute 30 to 45 minutes to work, so, if they have lost their car, they will likely relocate closer to their jobs. He said that there has been an offer to help families by relocating them to a homeless shelter in Birmingham.

“These folks have homes that can be repaired,” he said. “They have jobs. They have lives here and a lot of these folks have lived here their whole life, so to ask them to uproot from everything they’ve known, go to a new city where there’s not work guaranteed, kids aren’t going to know anyone, new schools, and also forcing them to live in a homeless shelter? It’s ridiculous.”

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Jemma Stephenson
Jemma Stephenson

Jemma Stephenson covers education as a reporter for the Alabama Reflector. She previously worked at the Montgomery Advertiser and graduated from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.