Volunteers pour into AL town

Volunteers help survivors of the tornado that killed 10 people and destroyed and damaged more than 300 homes here in Carbon Hill.

BY TRAVIS DUNN | CARBON HILL, AL | November 15, 2002


Donald and Rena McGough were waiting on an insurance agent Thursday afternoon.

Sunday, their home was ripped apart by the tornado that killed 10 people and destroyed and damaged more than 300 homes here. But they believe they are among the lucky ones – they have insurance and their lives.

“Our house is unlivable,” said Rena McGough. “But we have a lot to be thankful for. There are a lot of situations that are worse than ours.”

As the McGoughs took a break from cleaning up wreckage, they watched utility workers repair power and telephone lines, neighbors cut up felled trees with chainsaws and American Red Cross and Salvation Army food trucks drive around the neighborhood.

“I cannot believe how good people are—helpful, nice,” Rena McGough said. “They would do anything they could for you.”

So far the McGoughs haven’t had to rely on the help of volunteer groups. Family and community members have given them food, water and shelter.

“A lot of friends,” McGough said. “People you didn’t know were your friends until something like this happens.”

Regional and national help kept pouring into this storm-ravaged community Thursday. Faith-based disaster response organizations including Church World Service’s Emergency Response Program are assessing long-term needs and providing assistance.

The Carbon Hill Church of Christ, with assistance from the United Church of Christ’s disaster response program, was providing food and other necessities and using their own church as “central disbursing point,” said pastor Danny Butler.

Butler said storm survivors first had to answer a few questions so his workers could determine what to give them. Butler’s wife, Wanda, handles the interviews.

“If their whole house is gone,” Butler said, “they get anything they want.”

Donations and contributions were coming in from as far away as Titusville, Fla., and the Nashville group sent down a tractor-trailer filled with 500 boxes of food. Each box, Butler said, is enough to feed a family of four for a week.

The Salvation Army has also been active in the community. Nora Allen, executive director of the Salvation Army for Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi, said they had set up a base inside the First National Bank of Hamilton at Carbon Hill. The bank donated use of the building.

Then there was the supply warehouse, located behind the bank, and donated by another local business. Filled with dozens of volunteers and tons of food and other material including the contents of two shipments from Birmingham radio stations.

Brooke Drummond, a student at Bevill Community College, stopped by the warehouse after her morning classes. She spent the rest of the day Thursday sorting out clothes. Other young people helped out in the warehouse, like Tiffany Sherer, Nora Allen’s granddaughter, and Rachel Kennedy and George Crawford, two local teens.

“I get up at seven and come down here every morning,” Kennedy said.

At the receiving end of the warehouse, Mary Latham and Ruth King, sisters who lives across the street from each other, stopped by to pick up food and supplies. Each of the sister’s homes was damaged by the tornado, but the damage to King’s home was particularly bad, she said.

They brought out shopping bags full of food, which had already been prepared for them by Salvation Army volunteers.

Besides the Church of Christ and the Salvation Army centers, at the Church of God of Prophecy parishioners were working with the American Red Cross and Southern Baptists of Alabama.

Pastor John Butler said he opened his church’s gym to the Red Cross while the Southern Baptists opened up a huge mobile kitchen out in the parking lot.

In addition to the food and other supplies being distributed through his church, Butler also said that a dozen volunteers were sleeping in the church gym every night.

And in addition to the satisfying of material needs, Butler also said that spiritual and psychological issues also had to be addressed. “A lot of people are very emotionally distraught,” he said. “You have to look at the big picture—not just what’s happening temporarily, because up the road God could be working for our good.”

“Most people are walking around numb—just shocked,” said Pamela Cobb, a Red Cross mental health worker. “Many of the people here had no insurance. Even their houses were not insured, and they’re standing there in complete devastation.”

This period of numbness—a physiological response to the shock of disaster, she said—is likely to last for weeks or months. “Our job is to keep the wind in the sails of these people,” she said.


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