The small east Walker town was severely damaged after two different tornadoes passed through on April 27. Sanders said residents are in the process of removing debris, and she can’t wait for the day when things in Sipsey return to normal.
“I just want my town back,” Sanders said as she fought back tears while speaking on Tuesday to Rick Dearborn, who serves as chief of staff for U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions. Dearborn was in Walker County Tuesday to obtain assessments from local leaders on how the senator’s office can help in the recovery process.
“We want the town back too,” Dearborn responded. “We are going to do what we can to help get it back for you.”
Sanders said her biggest concerns now are getting severely damaged houses torn down and removed as well as finding funding to help pay utility bills for the Sipsey Community Center.
“We’ve got homes that insurance companies have called a total loss, but the residents or the town can’t afford to have them torn down,” she said. “We need help with that, because we just can’t do it.”
Sanders said residents have signed right-of-way releases for the city to do work on the property. She said the number of homes could reach 40, and the city couldn’t possibly afford to do the work.
“We’ve partnered with the Army Corps of Engineers, but they can’t take these houses down,” she said. “We need them demolished, and then the Corps can remove the debris.”
Two homes in the city had been torn down in recent days by volunteer workers, Sanders said. She said it took crews a day to demolish each home.
The city is also facing large utility bills for its community center, because it has been a relief center since the tornadoes hit in April. She said the town usually pays for the center’s utilities by renting it out for events, but that hasn’t been possible.
“We can’t rent it out when we are using it as a relief center,” she said. “We haven’t gotten the power bill yet for this month, but I’m sure it is going to be much more than the city has. We’ve got to get some help with that as well.”
Dearborn said he would personally make the calls to find help for the problems.
“I can make the calls,” he said. “The answer might be ‘no,’ but I think we can find someone to help.”
As a part of his visit to Walker County, Dearborn traveled to Sipsey, Argo and Cordova. He said the trip was more about finding ways to help each community than seeing the devastation left behind from the storms.
“We want to be here and be an active part of the rebuilding effort,” he said. “Each individual community has its own needs, and that’s why we are here. The senator is making his way through each community as well, but this is our way of hitting each area as soon as possible.”
Dearborn was guided through the county by Walker County Commission Chairman Bruce Hamrick.
“Sen. Sessions’ office has been active here since the day the storms hit,” he said. “They’ve given us an open line of communication, and I appreciate the work they’ve done and the work they will continue to do for us.”