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Residents question disaster response

 

Columbus Mayor Robert Smith

Columbus Mayor Robert Smith

 

 

Nathan Gregory

 

Two East Columbus residents informed the Columbus City Council Tuesday night that there was a lack of timely response to address issues stemming from the April 28 tornado.  

 

Mary Hood of Summerhaven Drive said no city officials have been in her neighborhood to assist in the relief effort, while Troy Miller of Maple Drive accused a Columbus Light and Water employee of telling him that his neighborhood was "not important." 

 

Hood said no city officials came to speak with her or anyone in her community on how help could be provided. 

 

"We put you guys in these seats but nobody seems to be caring about us," Hood said. "We're down there fighting and struggling, trying to get the trees off our home. My neighbor next door, she can't even go into her house, but y'all don't know none of this because you didn't come down to see it." 

 

Columbus Mayor Robert Smith then asked Hood to clarify that she had not received any city assistance. She replied that she had not, other than public works crews coming through the area to pick up debris as they normally do. 

 

"I thought you said no one came around to assist you at all," Smith said. 

 

"None of the councilmen, the mayor, nobody came around to see if we were alive or brought us a bottle of water," Hood said. "I went to United Way and when I went there the young lady said, 'I can't help you until after your insurance comes.' We needed help right then." 

 

The dialogue shifted to the amount of debris Hood had on her property. Smith reminded her that city crews could not enter private property to help clean up fallen tree limbs. He then told Hood that her accusations were incorrect because he personally ordered policemen and firemen to patrol East Columbus and Southside.  

 

Hood then said city community outreach coordinator Glenda Buckhalter came by her residence to speak with her and try to help her. Smith reminded Hood that Buckhalter works for the city, so someone with the city was working to address her concerns. 

 

"I'm talking about the ones we voted in," Hood said. "It's just not right. I see you guys when the time for election is coming up. You sit down, talk with us, shake our hands, have a beautiful conversation, but any disaster, didn't anybody even show up." 

 

Summerhaven Drive is in Ward 2, which councilman Joseph Mickens represents. He said he was sympathetic toward Hood's plight. 

 

"I'm sure if you were to ride Ward 2 there would be some more that would say I didn't visit their houses, but I guarantee there would be more that would say I came," Mickens said, adding that he passed out vouchers in East Columbus from an area grocery store. "I was out of power until Friday. I was in the same boat you (were) in. People are still hurting and we realize it." 

 

"I'm not saying that you (weren't) in the same boat I was in, but somewhere down that river you got off that boat and I was still on that boat," Hood responded. "Somebody from these seats up here should have come by and let people know we still care about you guys. Most of us are women and children, and we're out there doing the best we can." 

 

Smith then had interim police chief Tony Carleton, fire chief Martin Andrews, public works director Casey Bush and Buckhalter report to the council what they had done for residents of Summerhaven Drive. 

 

"For anyone that needed assistance, the firemen had a medical bag and also had water," Carleton said. "Mrs. Buckhalter also informed us that she has meals. We met at Fairview Baptist and received meals there and the firemen and policemen went out and gave food in those neighborhoods for people who needed it." 

 

Andrews added that Smith ordered police and fire crews to be out in full force as soon as the severe weather subsided.  

 

"We did complete sweeps of those areas to make sure we did the best we could do for our citizens," Andrews said. "I personally went down to Summerhaven myself." 

 

Bush said Mickens called and asked him to check on Summerhaven Drive. Bush said he saw the damage on Hood's residence and reported back to Mickens, telling him debris on private property was not something public works crews could rectify.  

 

 

 

CL&W complaint 

 

Miller said he and his neighbors struggled to get accurate information from CL&W on when power on Maple Drive would be restored. He added that diverting some resources to prepare for Market Street Festival was "not acceptable." 

 

"We called to ask exactly where they were working at," Miller said. "I was given a list of streets and communities they were working in. I got in my vehicle to drive and they were nowhere to be found." 

 

Miller also said he was thankful for the other out-of-town utility workers who came to assist CL&W and expedite power restoration, but accused CL&W employees of berating ratepayers for calling to ask when they would have electricity again.  

 

"By Friday, (CL&W) had enough time to assess the situation and be able to give each of those citizens a realistic timetable for when their power could and would be restored," Miller said. "One of the men out there said 'Your neighborhood is not important.' I wish I had his name because he probably wouldn't be working at Columbus Light and Water anymore." 

 

Asked Wednesday to respond to Miller's comment, CL&W General Manager Todd Gale said he personally took all Miller's calls.  

 

"I don't know where his statement is coming from," Gale said. "If he's got a problem he can come see me. With the resources we pulled into his neighborhood, I don't see how he could say something like that, and I take it as an insult."

 

Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.

 

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