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VOL. 123 | NO. 27 | Friday, February 8, 2008

'Unstable Environments'

Rebuilding, security efforts top of mind in Hickory Hill

By Bill Dries

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BLOWN AWAY: An HVAC unit from the roof of the Hickory Ridge Mall sits in the mall parking lot Thursday near a crushed car. -- Photos By Bill Dries

It's not repair work. It's rebuilding in Hickory Hill. That's how the team of local emergency responders described the immediate task in the community hit harder by Tuesday evening's storms than any other part of Memphis.

Three people died Tuesday in one of the distribution warehouses in an area with some homes but mostly commercial real estate.

Insurance adjustors and others should be busy estimating the level of property damage this weekend. Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen was also expected in the city Thursday on day two of a tour of storm damage in seven Tennessee counties.

Parts of the Hickory Hill area could be without power for as long as three weeks, said Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division president Jerry Collins.

"The restoration inside the Hickory Hill area is not a repair situation. It's a rebuild situation. And we're talking weeks," Collins said the day after.

IN WAKE OF CARNAGE: "I would suspect structural integrity is breached at the very least," said local Emergency Management Agency director Bob Nations of the Hickory Ridge Mall the day after it was among the buildings hit by a storm that killed three people elsewhere in Hickory Hill.

He described the power substation on Clarke Road at Challenge Drive as "completely out of service."

Easy pickings

The nearby Lichterman water pumping station was "in jeopardy" because of broken water pipes and a loss of power. The station was repaired and the water supply safe within a day of the storm.

Because so much of the hard-hit Hickory Hill area includes warehouses, distribution centers and other commercial real estate, Memphis police are stepping up their presence to make sure looters don't take advantage of the situation. There were no reports of looting in the storm's immediate aftermath, said Deputy Police Director Janice Pilot. The police presence will remain especially heavy around and on the streets connected to the Hickory Ridge Mall.

"We have every available resource that we have working in that area," Pilot said.

The retail center that has become a symbol of Hickory Hill's fortunes faces an uncertain future to be determined in the next week or so.

"I would suspect structural integrity is breached at the very least until someone tells me otherwise," local Emergency Management Agency director Bob Nations said of the mall damage Wednesday afternoon.

In addition to extensive damage to the Sears store in the mall, Memphis police said the Macy's store was heavily damaged and HVAC units were ripped from the roof.

Stability is also a concern in the warehouses that are the heart of the local logistics industry. The three people who died in Memphis were all workers at the DCS Logistics warehouse on Challenge Drive. Memphis Fire Director Richard Arwood said the fire departments' Urban Search & Rescue Team worked for three hours in the wreckage to pull eight other people trapped inside to safety.

Keeping the damaged warehouses standing for salvage and repair efforts also will remain a challenge in the coming weeks.

"Those are unstable environments," Nations said of the warehouses. "There are very sophisticated techniques used to shore those areas. Some of those structures give us a lot of difficulty just depending on their architecture and the materials used. I would not say (Tuesday) night was the most difficult but it was a challenge."

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