The recovery begins

Published 10:36 pm Thursday, September 23, 2004

By By Arthur McLean
Atmore City Hall has become a command post and communications center for relief efforts in area after the devastation wrought by Hurricane Ivan.
The city's front desk area has become a communications relay and combination meeting room for coordinating efforts among the agencies helping the area's recovery efforts.
City clerks like Celia Lambert, Nina Downing, Mary Carter and Becca Smith take messages, relay information from state and federal agencies while answering questions of concerned citizens who walk in the front door.
They handle questions about generators, contractor crews wanting to do business in town after the storm, and brief the mayor and council members on ongoing events.
Chairs set up in the lobby of city hall have served as the meeting room for city officials, power, hospital, police, fire and other representatives hosting daily strategy meetings.
A visibly tired mayor Howard Shell said the recovery effort is a moving target.
"Day to day, hour to hour, different things require our attention," Shell said. "But the governor (Bob Riley) has been very responsive to our needs over the past couple of days."
Shell and other Escambia County mayors let Riley know their displeasure with the state's lack of responsiveness in Escambia County in the day immediately following the storm. State officials had listed Mobile County as their top priority although the damage it received from the storm was minor compared the Escambia County's hit.
Since that time, state resources have begun to flow into Escambia County. The Highway Patrol set up a mobile command post in front of city hall over the weekend. By Monday, a state Emergency Management Agency bus and command center was parked in front of city hall.
Representatives from the governor's office and Cong. Joe Bonner's office were also on hand at city hall Monday. Bonner was expected to make an appearance in Atmore to meet with city officials Tuesday.
"The hardest thing is the minute to minute problems we have," Shell said. One day the shortfall might be generators, Monday's issue was finding gas and diesel fuel in the amounts needed to keep generators and city vehicles operating Shell said.
Again, the city has relied on the volunteer help of local residents, with a local farmer providing some diesel fuel and another man volunteering to run gas to the crews clearing debris around the city.
Fountain Prison is providing more than 100 inmates to clean-up crews, and it is cooking meals for the disaster workers and city crews while National Guard units take the food out.
Last week, cooks at Atmore Community Hospital and Escambia County High School helped feed the workers until food ran out.
For that, Shell is grateful. "I don't know who to start thanking," he said.

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