Earlier this year, footage of tornadoes and severe storms ripping through the Southern states gripped the nation. As news reports flooded the airwaves, people soon realized these weren’t typical tornadoes. Communities were demolished and many lives were lost. Across Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee and Virginia, storms on April 27 claimed an estimated 300 lives.
Less than one month later, an EF-5 twister tore through Joplin, Mo., flattening everything in its path. Missouri already had been hit by five destructive tornadoes that rolled through St. Louis and its outlying suburbs a month earlier; the most powerful tornado had an EF-4 rating.
The aftermath of these storms left damage that hasn’t been seen since Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast in 2005. The Gulf Coast is still rebuilding, and Missouri and the Southern states have a similarly long rebuilding road ahead of them. Since disaster struck, trade professionals and manufacturers have banded together to restore the South and rebuild towns from the ground up.
After the Southern tornadoes, Kristopher Nikolich, AIA, partner with the Design Initiative, Birmingham, Ala., his business partner Marshall Anderson, AIA, and Andrew Bryan, an office intern, responded to an almost immediate request from the Birmingham chapter of the American Institute of Architects for volunteers to participate in a four-hour ATC-45 training course with other architects, structural engineers and building inspectors. This training qualified them to assess damaged property and evaluate whether it was safe to return. The training courses are developed by the Applied Technology Council, Redwood City, Calif.
While inspecting structures in Tuscaloosa, Ala., Nikolich found some buildings that appeared to be unharmed but upon closer inspection discovered major structural issues that made the building uninhabitable. Other buildings suffered only superficial damages. Plenty fell in between.
The mayor’s office in Birmingham, in conjunction with AIA-Birmingham, sent a request to AIA for a Regional/Urban Design Assistance Team for rebuilding assistance for its Pratt community. R/UDAT is supported and organized by AIA and comprises individuals across the country who have expertise in planning, design and the economics of rebuilding communities afflicted by disaster. Two members from the Federal Emergency Management Agency working in Pratt have been attending the meetings so the organizations can work in tandem to ensure they are productive. The initial visit with the team leader and administrative staff was completed in August, with the design charrette a couple weeks later.
Home is where the heart is
Chris Youngs, CAPS, CGP, vice president of construction at Homewood, Ala.-based BMR Homes, focuses his work on residential projects in the Birmingham, Ala., area. He estimates about 95 percent of his current work is a direct result of the tornadoes. In fact, he’s booked for work through the first of the year. Youngs applies his Hurricane Katrina disaster-recovery and remodeling skills to the recent devastation in his area and currently is rebuilding for several dislocated families.
Finding a balance between getting residents home as soon as possible and taking enough time to thoughtfully rebuild structures is one of the most significant challenges Youngs has encountered. He stresses the importance of hiring an engineer to evaluate whether residences are structurally sound and require only cosmetic changes or necessitate total rebuilding. “Homeowners just want to get it fixed quickly. I think some of them are making bad decisions that will come back and haunt them in a couple of years when their homes start showing cracks from problems that weren’t repaired and were just covered up,” Youngs says.