Disaster responders in Enterprise estimate they will handle 300 to 400 cases during the long-term recovery from the March 1 tornado.
The focus has shifted from immediate response to the long-term, said Cavin Cawthon.
"We've gone past the cleanup and debris removal and are now forming a long-term recovery committee," said Cawthon, pastor of Church of the Circle in Enterprise and the committee chairman. "We have case workers being trained and they will work with residents to determine needs."
Cawthon said the focus will be on those residents with little or no insurance who have exhausted all other possible financial means, including aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Small Business Administration and the state government.
People at all income levels were impacted by the storm, said Mark Johnston, director of Lutheran Disaster Response in Alabama (LDR).
"This tornado ran across town, through poor sections, the industrial section and then through a middle-class neighborhood," he said. "Everyone was affected here, people from all walks of life."
The long-term recovery committee includes local and national faith organizations, non-profits and government agencies. To further train members of the committee, Johnston said experts from LDR and the United Methodist Committee on Relief will teach about case management, volunteer coordination and construction management. Other national relief agencies have supplied funding and staff to help form the committee.
"We want to help those that end up with unmet needs," said the Rev. Gary Daniel, pastor of Enterprise's First United Methodist Church. "There were some 1,500 homes that had damage from either shingles blown off to total destruction of everything. About 300 were condemned. Another 700 are what they call moderately to severely damaged."
Cawthon said the recovery committee will set up at a location that will be a one-stop place where people can go to get help as well as to help others.
"When it's open, anyone with a need can go there, and any volunteers can go there and be plugged in," he said.
The current volunteer intake center is at Christ the King Lutheran Church, staffed by AmeriCorps workers who are both helping place volunteers and cleaning up debris.
"Volunteers are still coming in and people call often," said Anthony Abraham, media coordinator for the AmeriCorps team.
Abraham said volunteers from throughout the U.S., have helped in the recovery. Even though the immediate cleanup needs have waned, volunteers will be crucial in the long term to help with repairs and rebuilds, he said.
"We're going from people with chain saws to more skilled volunteers," he said. "We have needs like roofing and everything from complete rebuilds to smaller jobs."
Volunteer groups were booked to come to town in the weeks and months ahead, he said.
In addition to meeting physical needs, responders are addressing the emotional needs of affected families by offering counselors and even a special camp specifically for children who have experienced disasters. Johnston said some residents are just now coming out of the initial shock after the tornado.
"All of the deaths made it very difficult," said Johnston, referring to the eight young people who died at the local high school.
"The other difficult thing is that I believe a lot of them are now out of their temporary housing and are having to rent homes," he said. "I recently talked to one client who is caring for two grandchildren and lost his home. He had to move into an apartment and is having to pay rent there and still pay his mortgage. He had to put down a deposit and now has to commute farther to work. He says he doesn't know if he'll be able to ever own a home again.
"That's the despair that's starting in the community."
Daniel said that many people are dealing with severe emotional trauma due to the storm deaths. Others are finding tokens of their once "normal" life among the rubble of their homes.
"Sometimes we pay lip service to people losing stuff, you know. We say, 'OK, it's just stuff, we can replace it,'" he said. "But it's been interesting to see what people are excited to find in the rubble. Sometimes it'll be an old ball glove, or some family photos in an album, those kinds of family things. As people find those things it can be helpful as they begin to put things back together again."
The public response to the disaster has helped bolster the spirits of affected families, Cawthon said. He said he was stunned by the support pouring in nationwide.
"That first week when I was out on the roofs helping, I was just amazed by how many people came to help," he said. "As I talked to the families, they'd say, 'I can't believe someone came to help and how many are here helping.' Every single person said they feel like someone cares for them."
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