Gulf coast residents deal with 2020 hurricane damage during the 2021 season

Jul 20, 2021

Weather forecasters say the most active part of the hurricane season is just ahead. While the Gulf coast prepares for incoming storms, many homes and businesses on the Gulf Coast are still recovering from last year. Blue tarps still cover damaged homes along the Gulf coast, Nine months after Hurricane Sally came ashore in Gulf Shores. It’s a sign that not all the damage from the 2020 storms has been fixed. Facing more potential storms from a busy 2021 season worries some residents.

“I don’t know. Right now, I’m still waiting on getting the roof repaired,” said Jeanette Anagnostopoulos, who lives on Plash Island in Gulf Shores. “I have tarp on the roof and this past weekend, we had another storm and there was another leak that came in,” she said. “But we’re waiting on some more estimates with someone coming this afternoon."

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One problem she and others face is waiting on contractors who can’t find enough workers for the jobs needing to be done.

“There’s just a shortage,” said Anagnostopoulos. “They’re having a shortage of getting good workers, good helpers, good workers that know their trade and getting the material for the roof, metal and siding. Not the siding, the shingles, I did lose siding, also, that’s another story. And my deck, part of my deck. The handrail fell down. So, that was kind of scary.”

Anagnostopoulos says that for all the damage, she was fortunate in some ways. “All my animals are OK, but I had a lot of flooding and it was all over the house,” she recalled. ”And part of the roof on one side of my house did wash in and the ceiling caved in and. But my animals are all OK. I lost some things and, of course, we lost power for about, I want to say about three weeks.”

Homes aren’t the only buildings with unfixed storm damage. City structures also need repair.

“We’re still actually recovering from some of the effects of Hurricane Sally,” said Gulf Shores Public Information Officer Grant Brown. “We still have some of our municipal buildings, roofs that have not been repaired.”

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Brown says city officials are also waiting for contractors who can do the work. 

“A number of our facilities from the city were damaged by the storm and it’s been a long process to get them repaired,” Brown said. “It has to do with there’s an awful lot of work being done in our county and contractors are busy and getting scheduled and getting materials and getting them to have time to come to do the repairs has been a challenge and will continue to be an ongoing challenge, I’m sure."

“Disaster recovery is a huge undertaking for any government entity,” said Zach Hood, Baldwin County Emergency Management director “In Baldwin County specifically, we are starting to see reimbursement from the federal government and it’s coming at a good time as the height of hurricane season is under way,” observed Hood. ”But, you have to know with any large, major storm, particularly with hurricanes, recovery efforts could last upwards of two years.”

That recovery has been hampered by the need for funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The agency known as FEMA reimburses counties and cities about 75 percent of approved costs for expenses. That includes building repairs, debris removal and employee overtime. The rest is up to the state and local government. Hood says that after storms like the ones in 2020, that still leaves a lot to pay for when another busy season is coming on.

“Being able to recover while plan, prep and prepare for a new hurricane season is a challenge all of its own,” Hood said. “Making sure that you have a way to address concerns from an active storm season like we have now is a concern for everyone and the fact that we are getting a timely reimbursement just before the height of hurricane season is helpful. It does not remove all of the stressers, but it is better than nothing.”

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While a tropical storm and hurricane have already hit the Gulf Coast, the busiest part of the season is just ahead. Hood says experts even have a date now for the start of the busy season.

“Specifically Aug. 5 and 90 percent of your storms come following August 5th,” Hood stated. “So, we do know that as far as July goes, we’ll continue to see development, but as we get into August, with everything that is going on with our atmospheric conditions, we will development of storms and, particularly those storms after August 5th have a tendency to become major, devastating storms. Last year, we talked about hurricane fatigue, and I still certainly think that concept is real in 2021 in a sense of now we’re back-to-back active hurricane seasons.”

Those storms can have an impact far beyond the coast. Hood says it’s not just beachfront communities that need to be ready for the effects of a Gulf hurricane.

“One thing that we don’t think about as a state is impacts from storms that make landfall in Coastal Alabama to your rural counties, all the way from Monroe, Clarke, Washington to even north of Montgomery as we saw with Zeta can see conditions that are not only dangerous, but cause damage and flooding and all of the issues that come when you lose power,” Hood noted.

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“So, in Alabama what you have to understand is we have many threats and hazards just with weather and just because you live in central Alabama that does not omit you from having to be prepared for tropical-type weather that our state can see.”

Hood says tropical weather has already made itself felt in areas that aren’t near the coast, such as Escambia County, Alabama, just north of Pensacola.

“We know as local governments regardless of where you are within the 67 counties of the state are all at risk for hurricane-type damage. A great example would be just early on most recently the tornado in East Brewton and these storms carry tornadoes. They carry a tremendous amount of rain,” said Hood. “They have speed. They have power and all hazards associated with storms.”

Grant Brown says the fact that more Gulf Coast residents are aware of the power of those hurricanes could be one silver lining to the storm clouds.

“As far as our residents, we’ve had an awful lot of new residents move into the area over the last number of years that have not really ever gone through a storm similar to what we had with Sally so I think people are hyper-alert and hyper-aware that we are in storm season and are able to manage their personal plans now after living through a Sally and so hopefully, that will be one of the benefits that come from such a bad storm,” said Brown.