The Tuscaloosa tornado on April 27, 2011, heavily damaged my father's primary home, in the Arcadia neighborhood, and devastated several of his rental homes near Holt. The destruction, as many have noted, is overwhelming - even after seeing it daily for nearly two weeks now. In my experience, you don't ever get used to it. At this point, each day I'm stuck with my heart in my stomach as I drive the now unfamiliar route to my dad's house to help with cleanup. I keep wondering when, and if, I'll ever be able to lay eyes on these hard hit areas and not feel physically sick. It'll be a while.
My experiences with all of the volunteers streaming into Tuscaloosa is two-fold: I've worked anywhere I can to help: at the Belk Center, a temporary shelter for those left homeless after the storm. There, I saw first hand how this storm has left so many with absolutely nothing. I'm no expert volunteer, but I've learned that sometimes, a smile, an ear and a hot cup of coffee can do wonders - at least short term. I also learned that the Red Cross volunteers are among the hardest working, most diligent people I have ever had the privilege to know. When I'm there, I'm in the presence of heroes.
I mentioned a two-fold volunteer experience, so let's get to that. My dad's Arcadia house was/is a total wreck. Not just tree damage - tons of structural issues as well. So much so that there's no way we could even begin clearing/cleaning up on our own. Then, a knock on the door: A small army of volunteers from a church in Elba staring back. "What do you need? We have chainsaws." I can't tell you what a welcome sight that group was to our sore, tired eyes (and bodies). My dad already has a massive cut down the side of his face from trying to clear the trees on his own...just to make it possible to get into part of the house. He's no spring chicken (sorry dad but it is true), and I worry constantly he'll try to do too much. Well, that's all fixed now. In one (long) afternoon, this group of dedicated volunteers, young and old, managed to cut, remove and clean up so much of what The Monster left in ruins. Thanks to their efforts, we hope that soon the utilities can be restored and repairs can truly begin on the roof and on rebuilding the 1/4 of the house that was demolished.
I cannot begin to thank that group enough for what they did last weekend. The image of my father "holding court" among that group, explaining what needed to be done and how to do it (LOL trust me, he always has a plan and will tell you in GREAT detail what he wants) is forever burned in my brain.
Another thank you is in order for those working with Samaritan's Purse. Apparently my dad's dog, BB the Wonder Hound (I am now convinced this is his 'grandchild'), managed to slip away from the house while they were working. BB went on a huge adventure, winding his long Basset Hound body through the debris and eventually finding his way to a food station manned by these lovely volunteers. They checked his collar and called dad immediately, saying "Oh no, he's fine, he's just enjoying some hamburgers. We'll hang on to him until you get here..." So thank you. BB also thanks you, as I have no doubt those burgers lifted his doggy spirits significantly.
I've never in my life been more proud to live in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. I've also never been more proud of my friends - everyone is finding a way to help, no matter where they live or how much time they have to contribute. Every. Single. Person. From the grassroots groups to the Red Cross, I'm seeing everyone make things happen. All day, every day.
Keep it up T-Town. Each time you see the destruction as you're out working, remember that you are doing all that you can to make a difference. Together, we will get there...