Highland Lakes neighborhoods face long recovery from tornado damage

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SHELBY COUNTY, Ala. (WIAT) — Highland Lakes continues to recover after deadly tornados devastated Alabama nearly two weeks ago.

Dozens of homes were damaged, some deemed a total loss. One house had the second story ripped off when the storms rolled through. Residents and contractors said it will be months before the clean-up is complete.

It wasn’t just residents in Highland Lakes that were impacted. Nicholas Hopson is the neighborhood’s USPS mail carrier. He was delivering mail when the storm approached. He was unable to get indoors and seek shelter, so he made do with what he could.

“The best thing for me to do was just park off the street,” said Hopson. “Turn the truck off, roll up all the windows. Put the car in park. And just pray until it blew over.”

Hopson said that was the closest he’s been to a tornado. He said while the storm passed over, he was on a Facetime call with his children, praying to God he’d be ok. Looking back, he feels lucky to be alive.

“I’m glad that I’m safe,” he said. “I’m glad that no one in the area has been hurt. And that I’m able to still continue my job.”

After the storm passed, Hopson completed his mail delivery route. Trees blocked the road, so he went on foot, making sure each resident had their mail and packages.

Mike Hartsock was in his storm shelter when the weather got rough. Walking out to the damage was a shock, he said.

“It was amazing, really,” said Hartsock. “I was flabbergasted when I came out and looked at what I saw.”

Hartsock and other residents of Highland Lakes recently received a notice that FEMA is unlikely to offer aid to their area and residents are expected to pay for tree and debris removal themselves.

“I hope we’re able to get their assistance,” said Hartsock. “We could certainly use it. The cost of tree and debris removal is extensive. And not covered by most insurance.” 

The Shelby County EMA Director said for private property on private roads, not receiving federal financial assistance is typical.

Hartsock said the past few weeks have been filled with neighbors helping neighbors.

“We had people here the day after the storm that helped us dig out our home,” he said. “And get some of the big stuff out of the way and get the trees of our home.”

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