CORDOVA, Ala. – State and federal emergency management officials said Wednesday they will try to find additional housing for residents of an Alabama town that refused to allow FEMA mobile homes as temporary shelter for residents left homeless by tornadoes.
Representatives of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Alabama Emergency Management Agency met with Cordova Mayor Jack Scott at the request of Gov. Robert Bentley, who asked them to help find housing solutions for residents of the town of 2,000, which was struck by two tornadoes April 27.
Speaking in a joint interview after the meeting, the emergency management officials said neither the federal nor state governments can force the town to allow the trailers, which would violate a 3-year-old law meant to keep many single-wide mobile homes out of the city, located about 35 miles northwest of Birmingham.
"We're going to honor the local ordinance," said Jeff Byard, recovery coordinating officer for the Alabama Emergency Management Agency.
But emergency management workers are stepping up work to find houses and apartments both in Cordova and nearby that could serve as temporary homes for residents, he said.
"Rental housing might be the way to go while they rebuild," said Mike Byrne, FEMA's official in charge of Alabama tornado recovery. It's unclear exactly how many Cordova residents might need housing, but workers already have identified several dozen units in the area, they said.
After the meeting Scott wasn't at City Hall, which is temporarily located in a trailer because of the destruction from the twisters. He didn't immediately return a message seeking comment.
Dozens of homes, businesses and city buildings were destroyed by the twisters, which killed four in Cordova. Some residents assumed they would be able to use mobile homes like those FEMA has provided elsewhere, and the city's police headquarters is temporarily housed in a similar trailer, along with a pharmacy and a bank. FEMA provides the homes to storm survivors who qualify for as long as 18 months.
The city's refusal to waive the law for residences sparked outrage, with some circling petitions to remove the mayor as anti-Scott signs popped up around Cordova. Older single-wide mobile homes were grandfathered in under the law and double-wide mobile homes are still allowed, Scott said, but new homes like the ones provided by FEMA aren't allowed.
Longtime resident Jim Madison said some residents support the trailer ban as an effort to keep "lower-class people" out of town, but he's written the City Council asking members to temporarily waive the law so people can have a place to live.
"You lift this ordinance and give people all their options," he said.
Cordova City Council member Sandra Stricklen said changing the city's ordinance will encourage long-term trailer placement.
"The council doesn't want to change the ordinance so that trailers won't be here 10 years from now," said Stricklen, who did not attend the meeting with emergency officials. "But the council has said all along that we do not object to temporary housing."
About 60 miles north of Cordova, Jerry Welborn said he and his wife are happy to be living in one of the FEMA trailers after their apartment was blown away in the town of Phil Campbell. His wife suffered a concussion, and Welborn is still nursing broken ribs and back injuries.
"We're happy here," Welborn said outside their white mobile home. "It's a warm place to live. It's safe."
AP writer Anna McFall in Montgomery contributed to this report