By Kenya Beverly
ABOVE PHOTO: Shane Eberhart looks out his broken front windows in Tuscaloosa, Alabama after tornadoes hit the area.
Photo: Dennis Drenner/American Red Cross
BIRMINGHAM, Alabama – A week after killer tornadoes swept through Alabama, claiming hundreds of lives and flattening houses and businesses, the signs of recovery can be heard in the sound of buzzing saws and debris removal equipment.
Some communities in the state’s largest city that once were home to beautiful churches, middle class homes and vibrant streets have been reduced to rubble. But city leaders say they are confident they will rebuild.
President comes through
Help, they say, arrived early and continues to flow from the federal government, neighbors, the state of Alabama and relief groups.
“I met with the president when he was in Alabama last week to tour Tuscaloosa. I told him we were disappointed that he was not coming to Birmingham.
“He assured me that a full range of federal assistance would be in place to help us recover and rebuild,” said Birmingham Mayor William A. Bell. “The president made good on his word.”
President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama arrived in Alabama that Thursday and by Saturday, representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency were in place registering people for assistance, Bell told BlackAmericaWeb.com.
FEMA in action
One of the greatest challenges, Bell said, is letting people know that they can register for assistance.
“Several areas in the city were hit by the tornado Wednesday evening and by strong straightline winds earlier in the day,” Bell said.
“I was talking to some people yesterday, and they didn’t even know that they could register to get some help. We want to make sure all of those affected by the storms get registered so that they can have the help they need.”
FEMA has set up 11 centers throughout the areas of Alabama affected by the storms.
A relief center for affected residents was set up at the old Scott Elementary School, located at 1517 Hibernian Street, open from 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., seven days a week.
Tour by Rice
The state has received lots of national attention since more than 250 people died when at least 23 tornadoes struck communities such as Pleasant Grove and Concord in Jefferson County, and Tuscaloosa, home of the University of Alabama.
Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice toured the Pratt community in her hometown on Tuesday. She grew up in Titusville, where her father pastored a Presbyterian church.
NAACP President Ben Jealous toured Birmingham and Tuscaloosa.
“The Tom Joyner Morning Show,” heard in Birmingham on 98.7 Kiss FM, broadcast live and encouraged support for storm relief efforts.
Joyner site accepting funds
The show had also reinstated the BlackAmericaWeb.com Relief Fund, which has already begun accepting donations to aid the communities’ needs in storm-affected areas.
In Jefferson County alone, where Birmingham is located, officials estimate that at least 3,000 homes have been destroyed.
Birmingham City Council President Roderick Royal, whose district includes much of the area in Birmingham affected by last week’s storms, said response to the city’s needs has been excellent.
In addition to the prompt response from government agencies, Royal said the response from relief groups has been tremendous.
“We have so many neighbors helping neighbors,” Royal told BlackAmericaweb.com.
Helping each other
Just one example is David Miller, a 30-year-old single father. Royal said Miller lives near the storm damaged area in Pratt, but his home was spared.
Miller decided to turn his home into a relief center, collecting and receiving goods for storm victims and making sure they get them.
“This may be unusual for people of his generation, but it is how people have survived for years – helping each other,” Royal said.
He’s already thinking about the next phase following the recovery.
“Huntington Hills and Smithfield Estates, both middle income communities, were hard hit. I think many of the people there will rebuild,” he said.
Storm-damaged areas where residents have lower incomes or fixed incomes may be a greater challenge for rebuilding, Royal said. He feels most people will return to the communities once they are restored.
“I believe people in the South have a greater sense of community,” Royal said. “This is more than just a place to stay; this is home. So they will return.”
The Red Cross, Salvation Army and Feeding America also are helping victims.