MDS director shocked by tornado damage in Alabamaby Anna Groff
While Hurricane Katrina survivors had about three days of warning before the storms, Alabama tornado survivors had only three hours on April 27.
Kevin King, executive director of Mennonite Disaster Service, said he was struck by the amount of people walking around dazed in the midst of their shattered homes. Some Alabama towns have only a handful of homes with roofs still intact.
Destruction after the tornadoes in Pratt City, Ala. Photo by Steve Craven. For more photos from Alabama, go to www.themennonite.org homepage.
King spent May 2-4 in Birmingham, Ala., and surrounding areas touring the towns devastated by the tornadoes.
“It will take me days to process what I saw in the last 48 hours,” he said in a phone interview on May 4.
More than 20 tornadoes went through the state. “It looks like one giant rake went across the state,” said King.
On April 30, King called the same pilot who flew him to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and asked if the pilot could fly him immediately to Birmingham. The pilot volunteers with Mercy Flight, an organization that offers air services during emergencies. The pilot picked up King at the Lancaster, Pa., airport on May 2.
During his visit, King met with individuals who lost their homes and heard stories of survivors describing where they were when the storm hit.
He spoke with a man who pointed out the demolished school across the street and told King he used to work as the principal. He asked King to help clean up the yards of his two homes. King explained he was on a preliminary trip. Later King heard from others that if he cleaned up that man’s home, he would “have the keys to the town.”
Before King’s visit, a 13-person MDS Early Response Team (ERT) from Lancaster went to Pratt City, Ala., and surrounding communities on May 1.
MDS has Mennonite connections to that area, making it easier to coordinate volunteers and the work. The ERT team’s work will focuses on moving debris to the curbside because the state and municipal trucks will only clean up the debris on the curb.
While MDS implements a process in which the local community decides which homes MDS should rebuild, the cleanup in these situations is less structured.
Plans for further volunteers and multiple sites are underway, said King. “However, each site takes an enormous amount of resources,” said King.
Coordinating volunteers remains difficult, since it includes finding sites for individuals to stay. Hotel space is limited, and bringing in full camp sites takes time and resources. Also, once volunteers are on the ground, training individuals and finding meaningful work remains a challenge. Finally, the homeowners must be present during the clean-up and making those connections takes times.
“I’m pleased with the progress, although it feels small,” said King. “It feels good for MDS to be on the ground so soon.”
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