‘Heavy-duty damage’: Sunday storm adds to debris load left by March tornadoes

Surveillance camera captures gas pump exploding when storm knocked it over

The storm passing through Columbus April 14 damaged the Citgo gas station and store at 1431 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd in Columbus. This video from a surveillance camera shows a gas pump exploding after being knocked over from the storm.
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The storm passing through Columbus April 14 damaged the Citgo gas station and store at 1431 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd in Columbus. This video from a surveillance camera shows a gas pump exploding after being knocked over from the storm.

The streets are clear of downed trees from Columbus’ latest spring storm, but the city has a long road ahead in its effort to collect all the debris that keeps piling up, authorities said Monday.

Sunday morning’s raging storm wave that spawned another round of tornadoes in east Alabama did not match the massive destruction of the March 3 tornado that crossed the Chattahoochee River into north Columbus, but still left its share of damage here, downing trees from midtown to the south.

“Lakebottom saw some pretty heavy-duty damage,” Columbus Public Works Director Pat Biegler said of Lakebottom Park, where winds uprooted or ripped apart mature pines and hardwoods south of 17th Street and east of Weracoba Creek.

Traffic lights on 17th Street at Cherokee Avenue were gone, so the street was blocked from there to 18th Avenue until crews arriving around lunchtime Monday could install new ones.

Biegler said Columbus also had damage to the south, along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, St. Marys Road and Steam Mill Road.

Reopening the roads is the city’s first priority, after a storm, to open routes for emergency vehicles, Biegler said. After that comes clearing the roadsides and then collecting the rest.

Sunday’s storm added more work to a department still busy on the north side of town, where the March 3 tornado left a long trail of wreckage.

“We’re stretched thin. We’ll say that,” Biegler said.

The city has devoted a rental grab-all truck to that side of town, while shifting one from its urban forestry division to Lakebottom, where downed timber is piled high.

The city still was cleaning up from Hurricane Michael, which downed trees here as it passed to the south and east of Columbus on Oct. 11, when the tornado hit March 3, Biegler said. Besides that backlog, homeowners in the spring typically get out and start pruning their trees, adding to the regular weekly debris pickup.

“There’s a lot of stuff down out there,” she added.

Severe thunderstorms passed through the Chattahoochee Valley, knocking down trees and causing power outages. The Phenix City Wastewater Treatment Facility also reported heavy damage to a building at the facility. Here's a snapshot of the damages.

Landfill fees

The city typically charges homeowners to collect debris from trees that fall on private property, and charges customers a tipping fee for dumping such waste at the Granite Bluff Landfill, 7589 River Road. It initiated a citywide moratorium on such fees after the March 3 tornado, but restricted that to north Columbus after April 4.

The area where property owners remain exempt from fees is bordered by River Road on the west, Double Churches Road to the south, Veterans Parkway to the east, and the Muscogee County line to the north.

To take advantage of that offer, customers need to get a certificate of approval at the City Services Center, off Macon Road at 3111 Citizens Way. They must provide a copy of a residential water bill and show personal identification matching the water bill address, and give an estimate of how many loads they expect.

Biegler said the exemption has been extended to private contractors working for homeowners in the designated moratorium area, if the contractors are hauling the debris to the landfill instead of leaving it for the city to collect.

In previous reports, Biegler said the landfill tipping fee’s about $42 a ton, which works out to about $20 for a full load in a half-ton pickup such as a Ford F-150.

City Manager Isaiah Hugley said Monday that the moratorium will be extended to the Lakebottom area and possibly other parts of the city, but city leaders still are gathering data on the damage to decide where. Extending it citywide remains an option, he said.

Biegler said the city so far has collected 47,000 cubic yards of debris since the March 3 tornado. Another way to estimate that is to figure a ton of waste, or 2,000 pounds, is equal to around six cubic yards, she said.

Roadside pickup

Private property owners leaving debris by the roadside for pickup are advised to cut it to four feet in length, if possible, Biegler said.

“We haven’t been enforcing that,” she added, noting that in some of the storm-damaged areas, the tree trunks are so thick that cutting them to four feet is impractical. She cautioned, however, that some people have put out limbs or trunks up to 20 feet long, or longer, and that’s too long to handle. “It needs to be reasonable,” she said.

Those leaving debris by the road should place it a safe distance from power lines, power poles and mailboxes, lest those be damaged during collection. Residents also must keep “inert waste” such as downed trees and other vegetation separate from “construction waste” such as wreckage from damaged buildings.

Biegler also warned residents to remember that statistically, handling fallen timber is the most dangerous occupation in the country, and people unaccustomed to such work should use extreme caution, if they’re not hiring professionals.

According to a report in Time magazine, logging remains the occupation with the highest fatality rate of nearly 136 fatalities per 100,000 workers.

Authorities previously have advised property owners hiring contractors to be sure those companies are licensed and insured, to avoid any homeowner liability for injuries.