Storm shelters open, volunteers respond for the first time in Pratt City

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — For the first time Wednesday, Birmingham’s Pratt City community utilized its new resources for storm preparedness.

Two newly-built community safe rooms opened for shelter in Pratt City Park and Jimmie Hudson Park.

While they were sparsely visited Wednesday morning, some residents, like Hyman and Shirley Nall, did not want to take any risks.

“I’m just upset when I hear about a storm coming,” Shirley Nall said. “In my heart, I want to be safe. I don;t want to be at home thinking that any minute now, I’ll be hit by a tornado.”

Nall said the weather Wednesday morning reminded her of the weather on April 27, 2011, when an outbreak of tornadoes tore through Alabama and destroyed many homes in Pratt City.

“It tore up our house,” Nall said. “It took about almost a year to get our house back together.”

Since then, Nall said she made frequent calls and visits to Birmingham City Hall to ask about when storm shelters would open in her neighborhood.

“I’m so glad that they’re open now. This gives me a lot of peace of mind,” Nall said.

Inside the safe room, volunteers outnumbered shelter seekers Wednesday.

Those volunteers were part of the new Citizen’s Emergency Response Team.

The team was formed in September. Members went through eight weeks of training, where they learned how to conduct search and rescue operations, staff storm shelters and put out small fires.

“Any time you have a tornado, the fire department may not be able to make it into some communities,” said Captain Bryan Harrell of the Birmingham Fire Department. “When you have people that are trained like the CERT team, they’re already on the ground, they’re already being able to help their neighbors.”

While Wednesday’s storms spared Pratt City any damage, volunteers like Delores Smith were happy to be on the ready.

“Nature has a funny way of changing (its) mind. They say it might pass over. Then again, it might not pass over,” Smith said. “So you need to be prepared either way … because we really don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Harrell said the construction of the safe rooms and introduction of the CERT team are ways to make sure that mistakes of 2011 are never repeated.

“At that time we weren’t as prepared,” Harrell said. “So that taught us a valuable lesson that we need to have some kind of way that people can shelter in case of a storm.”

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