Alto recovery, clean up assistance continues

by Cristin Parker cristin@thecherokeean.com

Alto tornado victims are urged to attend the Alto Disaster Recovery Housing Assistance meet and greet, 5:30-7:30 p.m., Monday, July 8, at Alto City Hall, 404 W. San Antonio St., Alto.

The National Weather Service reported at least two tornadoes, ranking F2 and F3 tore through Alto and other east Texas counties on Saturday, April 13 – killing four people in three counties.

Hosted by the East Texas Council of Governments, through the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs HOME Program, Alto residents whose homes were damaged in the tornadoes on April 13 can attend to see if they pre-qualify for assistance.

The HOME Disaster Relief Program allows ETCOG to support the rebuilding or repairing of eligible storm victims’ homes in the affected area. To rebuild, single-family homes average costs are from $85,000 to $94,000, depending on family size.

“We encourage individuals looking to see assistance to attend the community meeting on July 8,” ETCOG’s website states. “Or contact ETCOG Housing Program at (903) 218-6565 or housing@etcog.org.”

The debris removal program, provided by the Texas Department of Transportation, will continue through July 15, for residents of Blanton, Putnam, Elkhart (Hwy. 294), Smith, Miller, Quincy, Palestine (Hwy. 752), Decker, South Marcus (Hwy. 69), Ford, Church (FM 851), East San Antonio (Hwy. 21 E), Singletary streets.

“We assessed all areas and those listed are, I think everyone would agree, the ones with the most need,” Alto Code Enforcement Officer Lee Starling told Alto Council members during a meeting held June 24. “Most everyone has debris -- some have just a handful, but these streets are the worst.”

TxDOT officials request property owners on the streets listed move all debris (household and vegetation) to the edge of their property for easy access.

City officials encourage Alto residents who need clean up help or to find out where they can haul their debris to call City Hall, (936) 858-4711.

The Alto Food Pantry and the Chaparral Center also continues to provide assistance to Alto residents in the wake of the tornadoes.

Alto Pantry coordinators report their organization has been sharing space at The Chaparral Center since the tornadoes severely damaged the Pantry’s previous location.

“With this move, we are making a few changes to better serve our clients and to cause as little disruption to the Center’s operations and to neighboring businesses,” the Pantry’s Facebook page states. “We thank you for your patience as we figure out and tweak the changes and adjust to our new surroundings.”

Food box pick up hours are now 2- 5:30 p.m. on the third Tuesday of each month. Due to the layout of the new venue, there will be fewer volunteers on site during distribution days and clients should bring help to carry their groceries, if needed.

“If you show up and it’s busy, you are welcome to look around the thrift store until it’s your turn,” Pantry officials suggest. “Also please do not park on the side of the building or in the spaces belonging to Alto Rural Water.”

New clients can sign up any day the Center is open. Call (936) 465-9797 for an appointment. Bring a valid photo ID and proof of residence.

Alto ISD also recently got a helping hand from ONCOR Electric.

The utility company recently donated $5,000 to the school district, whose buildings sustained heavy damage in the tornadoes as well.

ONCOR representative Tom Trimble presented the donation to school officials on Monday, June 24

“The first thing is, the school district helped us so much when the tornados hit by allowing us a place to stage,” Trimble said. “We had a lot of material, poles, transformers, wire, fuses, all kinds of things coming down and we needed somewhere to put them.

“(Superintendent) Kelly (West) was gracious enough to allow us to use the elementary school parking lot to put all that material in and have a staging center.

“We actually made Alto a restoration area, which means that nobody could come in or out, as far as our people, without us knowing about it. We kind of isolate those areas so that we can get it done quicker.

“With the help of the ISD, I think we were able to get everybody that could receive power back on within 24 hours after the tornado.

“It was wholly because they allowed us to set up down here. Without that, we’re bringing in material from Jacksonville so it just takes way too much time. We can’t thank (the district) enough.”

AISD Superintendent West added, “We look at it as a partnership. They helped us; we helped them.

“I just appreciate all the organizations and businesses that have continued to help us. They recognize the need of the community.

“We’re still rebuilding. It’s going to take time. I just can’t thank them enough for everything that they’ve done to help us.”