Ala. Mayor Discusses Recovery Efforts After Storms

Melissa Block talks to Jerry Mays — the mayor of Phil Campbell, Ala. — about the destruction caused by the April 27 tornado and efforts to rebuild the small town.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Students were back in school today in Phil Campbell, Alabama, for the first time since the tornados ripped through last Wednesday. It's a tiny community in the northwest corner of the state, and it suffered huge losses. At least 26 people were killed out of a population just over 4,000. Among those killed, two elementary school students and a teacher there.

Earlier today, I spoke with Jerry Mays, the mayor of Phil Campbell.

Mayor JERRY MAYS (Phil Campbell, Alabama): One thing about a small town, you know everyone, and this is - I mean, I've known - knew every one of the people that lost their lives. And plus, we have about 60 people in hospitals. It's just devastating to a small town like Phil Campbell.

BLOCK: Yeah. I was thinking about that, that everybody there must know someone who died.

Mayor MAYS: Yes, yes. Everyone does.

BLOCK: Mayor Mays, if you drive around or walk around what's left of Phil Campbell right now, what do you see? Can you describe it for us?

Mayor MAYS: You see piles of rubble, two-by-fours and two-by-six mixed with tin and asphalt shingles. Whole streets are gone, nothing but rubble, in the path of the tornado. And it is - was about three quarters of a mile wide, and it went diagonally. It looks like a giant bulldozer came through and just tore everything up.

BLOCK: You know, Mayor Mays, a lot of small towns have taken such an economic beating before this, do you worry that Phil Campbell just won't come back the way it was?

Mayor MAYS: Yes, I do. I worry because I have watched for the last week people going through what's left, going through the debris and trying to find what is salvageable and put everything on what we call a 16-foot car-hauler trailer and leaving town. It may not ever be back. I hope it's not the case. I hope that we can make it better, and it will be better after the tornado, but you never can tell.

BLOCK: Yeah. Are you learning something, do you think, about the people of your town that you didn't know before?

Mayor MAYS: Yes, absolutely. It's not just our town, it's the whole United States because we've got people from all over the United States are coming in. I was advised yesterday, when (unintelligible) between Russellville and Phil Campbell coming up what we call Spruce Pine Mountain, there was a caravan of pickup trucks and machinery, chainsaws, and I would imagine there was 30 men in a caravan coming in from Oklahoma.

BLOCK: OK.

Mayor MAYS: People from the Gulf Coast because they've had so many hurricanes, Baldwin County, Mobile area. Yesterday, they came in with backhoes, with tractors, with Bobcats. Said, we come to pay back when you all came and helped us during Katrina.

BLOCK: Well, Mayor Mays, thanks so much for talking with us. We wish you all the best.

Mayor MAYS: Thank you very much.

BLOCK: That's Jerry Mays, the mayor of Phil Campbell. One other note on the Alabama town which is named after a railroad engineer, the first ever international Phil Campbell Convention was to be held this June on the 100th anniversary of the town's founding. The gathering of hundreds of people who share the name has now been transformed to a benefit, Save Phil Campbell, on the group's website.

Mr. PHIL CAMPBELL #1: Hi. I'm Phil Campbell from Portsmouth, U.K. And I'm committed to helping the town of Phil Campbell, Alabama.

Mr. PHIL CAMPBELL #2: Good day. This is Phil Campbell from Bendigo, Victoria, Australia, and I'm committed to helping the town of Phil Campbell, Alabama.

Mr. JASON BIGGS (Actor): Hi I'm Jason Biggs, and I play a Phil Campbell in the upcoming movie "Grassroots," and I, too, am committed to helping the town of Phil Campbell.

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