Legislators witness winter storm first-hand
by Will Heath
Jan 31, 2014 | 872 views |  0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
ST. CLAIR COUNTY — Rep. Mack Butler witnessed the effects of Winter Storm Leon first-hand this week.

Butler – a member of St. Clair County’s legislative delegation who hails from Rainbow City – was headed to Montgomery for this week’s legislative session when the worst of the storm hit.

“I left a little early on Tuesday morning because I had a meeting with the speaker prior to the session,” said Butler.

A normally 2-hour drive south eventually turned into a journey that lasted more than 24. Going nowhere in Alabaster, Butler turned back toward Birmingham on Interstate 65 going north.

“I spent the next 12 hours driving about 2 miles,” he said.

Butler wound up spending the night at a gas station near The Summit on U.S. 280, eventually making it home Wednesday.

“It truly looked an episode of (the television show) ‘The Walking Dead’ with all the abandoned 18-wheelers and wrecked vehicles,” he said.

Rep. Jim McClendon, R-Springville, said he missed the traffic, but only because he forgot his wallet.

“I took off to drive up there (to Montgomery), and I got to the Clanton exit, and the snow started about that time,” he said. “Also about that time, my wife called and said, ‘Do you need your billfold?’

“I turned around and came back; she met me in Trussville, I got my wallet and headed back. By the time I got to (Alabama) 119, it was back near blizzard conditions. So I made another U-turn and came home, and it was a good thing. I would’ve been trapped down there Tuesday and Wednesday and couldn’t get away. It was fortuitous.”

The legislature did not have a quorum on Tuesday, was out of session Wednesday and only met a few hours Thursday. The legislation passed paled in comparison to the crisis the state faced as the result of snow and ice.

“To be honest, this even fooled the weathermen,” said Rep. Dickie Drake, R-Leeds. “It being such a surprise, I think we did pretty good. We were prepared for it, but I think we handled it the best we could, since it was a total surprise. There were some things we could’ve done better, had we had a heads-up.”

Drake said he had already met with Leeds mayor David Miller, who drew fire after the city ordered some vehicles towed away at the owner’s expense. Miller told local reporters that the state would reimburse the motorists, but the state said municipalities will have to foot the bill.

Drake said he, Miller and Sen. Slade Blackwell, R-Birmingham, have met to assess the situation. The Leeds Council is planning to consider a resolution to assume the costs for the removal of vehicles at its Monday meeting.

“He (Miller) was given some bad information,” Drake said. “We got it all hashed out; it’s not going to cost anybody a dime.”

Rep. Randy Wood, R-Anniston, said the state was fortunate to maintain power through the weather.

“I think, all in all, the state did an outstanding job,” he said. “It would’ve been nicer if we could’ve been better prepared, but things like this just happen.”

Butler said he saw many acts of kindness on the road.

“I was thrilled to see that FEMA didn’t come in here and rescue us,” he said. “We took care of each other. I think it was remarkable the way social media played a role and Alabamians took care of each other.”

McClendon also commended teachers who stayed at their schools with their students, once it became the weather would prevent them from leaving.

“If I’m really going to be proud of somebody, it’s schoolteachers that took these kids under their wing and kept them protected and fed them and housed them,” he said. “Hooray for these schoolteachers, and the other faculty staff members who stayed on and let their own families fend for themselves. If there’s anything I thought was really commendable about this whole fiasco, I thought that was it.

“Hopefully next week we’ll get back up and going and be about our business.”

Contact Will Heath at wheath@thestclairtimes.com.