A number of AL" target="_blank">Alabama apartment complexes were in the path of the tornado that smashed through Tuscaloosa, Ala., last week.

One of those properties was Chastain Manor in hard-hit Tuscaloosa, Ala. Two of the property’s residents were killed by damage from the storm and another couple of residents were hospitalized. The two-story complex was destroyed. “There wasn’t an inch of that property that the tornado did not hit,” says Ashley Monroe, regional vice president for Atlanta-based Lane Co., which managed the property.

But Monroe remains thankful that the death toll wasn’t worse. “We started to lease in December 2010,” she says. “Luckily, we only had 21 occupied units at the time of the tornado.”

A number of those residents actually were in their units when the storm hit, according to Monroe. “The odd part of it all is that a majority, probably 75 percent, of the residents were home at the time of the tornado,” Monroe says. “As destroyed as the buildings are, a lot of them got out safely, thank God.”

The Scope of Damage
Numerous local sources reported damage across apartment complexes, said Julie Harbin, association executive at the Alabama Apartment Association and the Greater Birmingham Apartment Association.

Apartment complexes affected include: Sealy Realty Co.’s 144-unit Charleston Square Apartments in Tuscaloosa (completely destroyed); several properties belonging to Birmingham-based Arlington Properties (damaged); Birmingham-based SPM Property Management's 51-unit Southbrook Apartments in North Birmingham (completely destroyed); and St. Charles Place in Pratt City (heavily damaged).  

“It’s so widespread,” Harbin says. “We’ve had huge tornados affect certain areas before, but just very small areas. The widespread damage here is absolutely unbelievable.”

The Aftermath
Lane had people on deployed for damage control a couple hours after the tornado hit, but they couldn’t get on-site because the National Guard and police had blocked the area off. By the next morning, the Lane team walked on the site.

“The first step when we get on site, in a situation like this, is locating residents,” Monroe says. “We start with the rent roll and we go down with emergency contact numbers. Our guys were physically moving debris looking for people. Unfortunately, the first deceased body was found by a Lane Co. associate.”

The residents returned to the site in the following days seeking valuable from their homes. “For some of them, we were able to climb through the debris,” Monroe says. “One lady was specifically looking for this purple little bag that had her mother’s and grandmother’s jewelry in it. She’s standing out in the parking lot, and we're in the unit with things caved in around us. She’s trying to direct us to where it was when the tornado hit.”

The Greater Birmingham Apartment Association is also working to help in the recovery. Harbin says 100 communities have mobilized to collect donations for apartment residents affected by the tornados. The association is also purchasing air mattresses for displaced families and posting apartment communities that are offering discounts for tornado victims on its website.

“Basically we need to get fast, affordable housing for all of these people that are displaced,” Harbin says.

People interested in helping those residents displaced by the storm can visit the Greater Birmingham Apartment Association website at http://www.gbaa.biz.