Tornado causes housing crunch in poor, rural Alabama county

EUTAW, Ala. (AP) — Only 7,600 or so people live in impoverished Greene County, and hundreds of them are clustered in a public housing community called Branch Heights. Officials are now trying to find housing for more than 100 residents who were displaced when a tornado hit the neighborhood late Wednesday.

The hunt is complicated by the fact that the rural area, located about 90 miles (145 kilometers) southwest of Birmingham, doesn’t have much excess housing that’s suitable, and some people lack transportation. To make matters worse, forecasters say more storms are possible this weekend.

“We have to find somewhere for them to live, they have to have shelter,” Anita Lewis, executive director of the Greene County Housing Authority, told WBMA-TV on Thursday. “The more I looked, the more devastating it got.”

More than 40 homes in the community were damaged by what the National Weather Service said was a weak tornado, and 27 are uninhabitable with significant damage to roofs and other parts of the structure. About 110 people were displaced, officials said.

Mattie Roscoe, who rode out the twister with one of her grandchildren, was briefly trapped in the wreckage of her home.

“All I said was take care and have mercy on me, Lord,” Roscoe told WBRC-TV.

The storm presented the first crisis of first-term Mayor LaTasha Johnson’s new administration. She said she had made it a priority to clean up the storm damage and find housing for displaced people.

“Right now we’re in the process of getting families located to have somewhere to stay, and we’re asking for help, any help we can get,” Johnson said.

The damage wasn’t widespread, and it’s unclear whether the area qualifies for outside aid. The housing authority plans to put people in a hotel and work as quickly as possible to get apartments ready for residents to move back, but some of the work could take longer.

“We don’t have any vacant units,” Lewis said. “We’ve reached out to other housing authorities to see if they have any vacancies. ... If not here, we will have to go to Tuscaloosa.”

But there’s concern about transportation if residents are placed outside of Greene County, which is among the poorest regions in Alabama.

“A lot of residents don’t have cars, so this is the best place for them to be,” said Lewis. “We are going to have to try to figure out how we are going to deal with that.”