By Mr. Gail Anderson (USARC)May 4, 2011
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - The 81st Regional Support Command suffered major damage to some of its real estate here, as more than 360 tornadoes swept across the southeastern states, from Oklahoma to North Carolina on April 27th.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), said that Tuscaloosa appears to be the hardest hit and that April 27th was the deadliest single day for tornadoes since the March 18, 1974 outbreak that had 747 fatalities across seven states.
Tuscaloosa Mayor Walter Maddox estimated the cost of clean-up of his city between $75 million and $100 million, while officials with the 81st RSC are still assessing total dollar amount damages to its facility located on 10th avenue.
That facility includes the Woolsey Finnell Sr. Armed Forces Reserve Center and the Area Maintenance Support Activity (AMSA) 154 repair shop. Although more damage is being found every day as cleanup crews rummage through the debris, so far, "the costs incurred due to all losses could reach $10 million," said the 81st RSC deputy director of public works, Frank Eubanks.
"Because there's more than just facility loss - there's equipment loss - there's the units that are working out of the building who had their mission equipment in there. Tools to work on stuff have been lost, computers, furniture, everything necessary to be able to run a business. Some of it can be lost; some of it can be salvaged. We don't know what can be salvaged or what cannot yet because we're currently in the process of having an emergency fence put up around the property line to secure the area and then we'll conduct a controlled access to let the units come in and retrieve their stuff; were going to have a structural engineer come out there and assess the building to ensure it's safe for them to enter the building and if it's not then the stuff that's in the building may become a loss and we'll have to do a loss report regarding that equipment," said Eubanks.
The mission of the units, located in the heart of storm ravaged northwest Tuscaloosa, is relocating under the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Act to a new facility already near completion.
"It is both a National Guard and an Army Reserve facility and will be called an Armed Forces Reserve Center because of that. We were due to move-in in the June/July time frame and the Army Corps of Engineers has contacted the contractor and he is accelerating his efforts to allow us to go ahead and move what we can into the portions of the new facility that are already complete. As soon as the rest of it is complete, in the next 30-45 days, if able, we will go ahead and move those functions into there immediately," Eubanks said.
Staff Sgt. Jimmy Orange, the company motor pool sergeant and maintenance noncommissioned officer in charge of the 75th Combat Support Hospital (CSH), said he estimates the damage to the 85 vehicles in his motor pool to be about a quarter of a million dollars.
"The way I look at it, it's gonna be close to about $250, 000 to repair my 85 Humvees and 5-ton trucks," said Orange. "Each vehicle can cost up to $250, 000 by itself, but not all my vehicles are total losses, some have damage to the only the windshield or only the door or frames, so the whole thing doesn't have to be replaced," he added.
Fortunately for the 81st RSC, property damage is the only loss that they incurred. There was no loss of life or any injuries sustained in the devastation, although there was one individual who was trapped in the AMSA shop when the twister first struck the building.
On his civilian job, Staff Sgt. Keltner Patterson is a military technician who works as a heavy equipment repairman in the AMSA shop, but he is also a member of the 75th CSH. He is the only person who just happened to be in the building at the time.
"We had a category 5 tornado come through, right over this shop, and I got trapped in -- couldn't get out, couldn't get to a safe place, and this was the safest place I could be at, at the time," said Patterson.
"I moved to the back of the building, went to the bathroom door and got into the lowest part of the floor, and crouched down between the door facing and that's how I survived the storm," added Patterson.
He said that this tornado was the worst natural disaster he has ever seen and described it, simply, as "a war zone."
When asked what he thought was the contributing factor to his survival, he didn't hesitate to say "good construction - good construction and good faith."