Alabama Tornado Aftermath: The Forgotten Families

Alabama Tornado Aftermath: The Forgotten Families

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The tornado damage in Alabama is far more devastating than can be imagined by just seeing the images on TV and YouTube.

In Tuscaloosa, full neighborhoods and communities have been obliterated as if a bomb was dropped. Two weeks after the tornado roared through the town of 90,000, bulldozers, city and county crews, and aid from Texas, Georgia and Florida have descended on the area. Fallen trees, mangled metal, and the splintered remains of houses, have been cleared out of the streets and into mountainous piles ready to be scooped into dumpsters.

Church groups, the Red Cross and other volunteers swoop through the streets of Tuscaloosa in Jeeps and golf carts, handing out chilled bottles of water, hamburgers, and other supplies to the laboring crews and devastated residents. The buzz of chainsaws cutting down broken trees is a constant hum.

Celebrities have visited. Professional basketball players stopped by the Red Cross shelter earlier this week to shoot hoops with the kids. The national media is everywhere with television cameras and news helicopters flying overhead.

The Tuscaloosa newspaper reported today that there are too many supplies of clothing and water being donated and warehouses are overflowing. Donations are being turned away. Help has descended on the city of Tuscaloosa like a second storm.

However, just an hour outside of Tuscaloosa, the story is dramatically different in the poorest and most rural areas of Alabama. Here the tornado destroyed neighborhoods and communities, too. But they are forgotten and ignored -- as usual, say some.

No celebrities have visited, no musicians are giving concerts, no basketball players or television crews are rushing to offer help to tiny towns like Tishabee, with its 300 residents. Some of the communities grew around clusters of extended families, generations living together on a sprawling piece of property. When their trailers were blown apart by winds they had no place to go.

Most of the families don’t have a lot more than the roof over their head.

Blue tarps that replace the missing roofs dot the landscape throughout the community. When it rained a couple of days after the tornado, water seeped under the tarps, soaking the walls, carpets, blankets and furniture.

For these families and communities, their glimmer of hope is Ethel Giles who works with the Federation of Southern Cooperatives and the Alabama Organizing Project, both part of the Equal Voice Network. The destruction and loss to families that can least afford it is heartbreaking, said Giles.

She loads up a big white pickup with Red Cross boxes filled with cleaning supplies, food, water and juice drinks, then drives out into the rural countryside, making deliveries to families, trying to connect them with assistance and Federal Emergency Management Agency representatives.

Some ask for blankets or sheets. Giles has none. She shares the latest information she has on recovery efforts, makes sure everyone has registered with FEMA and asks if they have heard anything back yet. Most haven’t.

Then she climbs into her truck and is off to the next community.

2011 © Equal Voice Newspaper