By Dale Liesch and Jason Johnson
A late shift to the east may have spared South Mobile County the brunt of Hurricane Sally’s strength, but the communities didn’t come out unscathed.
Dauphin Island Mayor Jeff Collier called the community “battered and bruised,” but said the recovery was already underway.
“We have made a tremendous amount of progress,” he said.
However, the island’s biggest concern was the loss of power and the closing of Dauphin Island Causeway, meaning those who decided to stay were unreachable for a number of hours, Collier said.
“There were a lot of big problems, with residents losing access to the mainland,” he said. “We lost power before anyone else.”
On Friday, Sept. 18, police had set up a checkpoint for drivers on the causeway to keep visitors away while recovery efforts continued.
“With on-island conditions, we’re not in a position to let anyone come over,” Collier said.
As with a lot of storms, the west end of the island was a big concern, he said.
In a press conference at Dauphin Island Town Hall following a flyover of damage in the area, Gov. Kay Ivey said the town and the county would have the full support of the state government.
“After I have flown over I can see it’s mighty bad,” she said. “It was a rough, rough storm. We want to stand with you and we want to help you.”
The devastation viewed by air opened Ivey’s eyes, she said, as it’s one thing to hear about it up in Montgomery, but it’s another to see it firsthand.
Bayou La Batre Mayor Terry Downey said he’s never seen the city distribute more sandbags than it did in the days leading up to Hurricane Sally’s landfall, but he’s glad they weren’t needed. There are a number of low-lying and flood-prone areas in the bayou, which is why flooding was a big concern when Sally was projected to be a historic rainmaker for the area.
Like most of Mobile County, Bayou La Batre only saw minor amounts of rain after the storm made a late shift to the east, which caused major flooding in places like Pensacola, Fla. Downey said he and incoming Mayor Henry Barnes surveyed damage together last week and saw mostly minor wind damage, though he said fallen trees and limbs did cause widespread power outages and some damage to homes and city buildings.
“We’ve got some blue tarps on the police station due to a little bit of roof damage, but as far as structural damage, I haven’t heard about all that much. It was mainly just trees and powerlines that were knocked down,” Downey said. “I’m sure some homes saw some structural damage from tree limbs and trees, but I haven’t heard of any injuries or anything like that thankfully. I think we dodged a bullet, and the Lord blessed us in the bayou.”
The message from Ivey and others was one of unity on behalf of the government at all levels to help residents recover.
U.S. Sen. Doug Jones said the federal government was ready to help as well. He called the damage “incredible.” Jones added the levels of government were all pulling in the same direction on this.
“We’re trying to speed up the recovery efforts through FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency),” he said. “We’ve done it before. There’s a lot of people hurting out there.”
State Emergency Management Director Brian Hastings, who was at the press conference alongside Ivey, said while the state is prepared to help, the initial response to the storm has to come from local leaders like Collier and County Commissioner Jerry Carl. Hastings called local leaders the “conduit” between local residents and state agencies.
“Just because you don’t hear someone asking for help, doesn’t mean they’re not asking,” he said.
Carl praised the way the different folks had thrown partisanship out the window to help the people of Mobile County and Dauphin Island.
“Politics have been pushed aside,” he said. “I would like to thank the federal, state and local governments for the response and their passion to serve constituents in this way.”
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