Buzzing chainsaws and beeps from backhoes provided a booming soundtrack Monday to work in Wetumpka as the city continues to recover from a weekend tornado.
Hundreds of volunteers came out to offer a helping hand – assisting victims as they pack up their belongings, feeding first responders and removing downed trees and other debris.
About 35 homes and two historic churches were damaged or destroyed in Saturday afternoon’s twister, which the National Weather Service estimates had winds of 135 miles per hour.
More than 300 volunteers were on site by lunchtime Monday. That’s after more than 700 volunteered Sunday.
Elmore County Commission Chairman Troy Stubbs said Wetumpka has been blessed with assistance from throughout the River Region. First responders from across the Montgomery area answered the call to help, as well as groups like the Salvation Army, churches and other organizations.
“We are overwhelmed with the number of people who are down here working,” Stubbs said. “In some areas, we don’t have enough work for them to do. We are not even 48 hours from the storm, and we have already made tremendous progress.
“We have witnessed a community truly coming together. I can’t say enough about the fellowship, the relationships that are built in a time like this,” he said.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey toured the damage Monday afternoon and said it was as bad as she imagined.
“We give thanks to God Almighty that there was no loss of life. Yes, we’ve lost a lot of property – 35-plus homes, many of them demolished or badly damaged. So, there’s a lot of discomfort in the area,” Ivey said.
“One of the refreshing things I find so rewarding here is so many in this area have volunteered to come forward and help put Wetumpka back in order. This is special.”
Wetumpka Mayor Jerry Willis thanked the city’s first responders for the work they have put in the past two days. The Wetumpka Police Department sustained significant damage and five patrol cars were destroyed by the twister. He said the city would build back.
“It gives us an opportunity now. It gives us an opportunity to do something else. We’ll built it back, and it’s going to be built probably greater than it ever was. We are excited about that challenge,” Willis said.
The mayor said roads would be reopened as soon as they were safe to travel. He also praised the work being done to restore utilities.
“The power company has done an outstanding job. We got basic service back on Sunday night about dark. That’s pretty quick to get it back up,” he said.
“You’ve got to remember that the transmission lines came across this river. We had to get that back in place. All these lines were in the river. So, they’ve done a great job.”
At the height of the storms, more than 2,200 customers were affected by outages in the Wetumpka area. Statewide, more than 43,000 Alabama Power customers were affected by outages from the storms.
The Elmore County Emergency Management Agency office advised people to monitor media and social media about ways to donate or help in specific ways in the days ahead.