Tornados Rip Apart Several Libraries in the South [UPDATED]
The scope of the post-tornado cleanup needed at Birmingham (Ala.) Public Library's Pratt City branch. Photo by Melinda Shelton/Birmingham Public Library
The partially shredded exterior of Birmingham Public Library's Pratt City branch. Photo by Melinda Shelton/Birmingham Public Library
Library officials in the southern United States are assessing the extent of damage caused by a violent tornado outbreak April 25–28 that killed at least 339 people and left billions of dollars in property damage. According to the April 30 New York Times, the last time a series of tornados wreaked such havoc was on March 18, 1925, when 700 were killed in storms that savaged Illinois, Indiana, and Missouri.
On April 27, Tuscaloosa and Birmingham, Alabama, shared the dubious honor of being struck with the same mile-wide tornado April 27 that decimated entire neighborhoods and claimed the lives of at least 65 people. The Pratt City branch of Birmingham Public Library was severely damaged and lost its roof, although its book collection and the Pratt City Historical Archives housed there somehow stayed dry. A host of volunteers that included Alabama State Librarian Rebecca Mitchell helped salvage undamaged equipment, shelving, and materials, Melinda Shelton of BPL told American Libraries.
Mitchell said in the May 2 Library Journal that five other public libraries in the Tuscaloosa/Birmingham area were also heavily damaged—those in Jasper, Killen, Ragland, Cordova, and Pell City. Half may be a total loss.
“These are dark days in Alabama,” Michelle Wilson, president of the Alabama School Library Association, told AL. “Many of our students are hurting emotionally, and their families are struggling to begin the recovery process even when there are still hundreds unaccounted for.” Noting that hard-hit Pell City suffered significant damage to its schools as well, Wilson emailed the afternoon of May 3, “In just a few minutes a funeral will begin for two of Concord Elementary’s students and their mother.” ASLA has begun coordinating disaster-recovery efforts for school libraries.
The unscathed School of Library and Information Studies at the University of Alabama, whose campus libraries were also spared, has posted a webpage with links to recovery efforts. The campus remains closed.
Although the Tuscaloosa Public Library escaped the storm, six staff members lost their homes. The day after the tornado, area residents swamped the branches in search of internet access, electricity for their mobile devices, and an oasis of calm. “For most, TPL was the only means of communication to family and friends after the storm. Plus, we were a place of normalcy and comfort after the pain of the storms,” Public Relations Coordinator Vince Bellofatto told AL.
Smithville to start all over again
No matter how large or small, communities could not withstand the massive power of the tornados. The small town of Smithville, Mississippi (pop. 800) was all but flattened in the early-morning hours of April 27. Smithville Elementary School librarian Kerry Baker has been unable to return to the school as of May 4. Although the K–8 school, as well as the high school, must be rebuilt, Baker is hopeful that some of the collection was saved by the tarps put up by the principal before the storm began.
The aftermath in Georgia and Tennessee
Libraries in the northwest corner of Georgia and far southeastern Tennessee also experienced severe tornado damage.
The roof was torn off the building that was temporarily housing Cherokee Regional Library System’s Dade County Public Library branch in Trenton, Georgia, while the library is being repaired and renovated. A professional restoration company was retained to save what it could of DCPL’s local history collection, which was scattered amid remnants of the circulating collection by high winds.
Georgia State Librarian Lamar Veatch was working with federal officials to get DCPL reopened in a new temporary facility by mid-May—a feat made possible by the addition of libraries to FEMA’s list of essential community services that need immediate temporary shelter in the event of a disaster. “People are really missing our services right about now, when they really need to get in touch with loved ones, and that’s only going to increase for them,” Cherokee Director Lecia Eubanks said in the May 1 Chattanooga Times Press News.
Elsewhere in Dade County, the school system was struggling to create makeshift classrooms in the wake of extensive damage to district schools. Superintendent Patty Priest said school libraries, as well as cafeterias and music rooms, would have to be utilized, according to the Times Press News. Catoosa County Schools suffered the the destruction of Ringgold Middle School.
Rural areas across the border in Tennessee faced similar circumstances. Bradley County’s Blue Springs and Michigan Avenue elementary schools were damaged badly enough to keep them closed for the rest of the academic year. Storm damage has also closed the South Knoxville branch of the Knox County (Tenn.) Public Library for the time being.
American Libraries, Wed, 05/04/2011 - 15:35