Building hope in Birmingham

BY DANIEL F. DRUMMOND | BIRMINGHAM, AL | December 9, 1998


ight months after communities here and in surrounding Jefferson County were hit with tornadoes that left

a 22-mile path of destruction and 34 people dead in its wake, residents and the disaster response organizations are beginning to see real

progress in the recovery the communities.

While many of the 1140 homes severely damaged or destroyed in the April 8 tornadoes have been repaired or replaced, the work is still

continuing, said the Rev. Ricky Thacker, coordinator of the Birmingham area interfaith committee and pastor of Sandusky First Baptist Church.

Hundreds of men and women who have donated their time and money are still busy nailing siding and installing insulation on homes. "We still

have some houses to build," Thacker said.

Rusty Crow, volunteer coordinator of the Lutheran/Episcopal Disaster Response Center agreed. Crow said the work that the various response

groups have done in the communities is still continuing despite rapid gains within in the last few months.

"There's always work going on. We've got new people coming in all the time," Crow said. "By this time next year we should be done."

Now in their new single-story home for just over a month, Philip and Cindy Rutland and their two children are beginning to realize what they've

been through the past few months.

"We're just trying to get back to a normal life," Philip said from his new McDonald's Chapel home.

With the assistance of the interfaith community, hundreds of people from Mennonite and Baptist organizations helped the Rutlands turn a

dismal situation into joy.

Having only lived in their previous house for five months, the Rutlands saw all of their worldly possessions become rubble when the twisters

drove through the house, Philip said.

"It just took everything we owned, our cars, everything. It was like rummaging through a garbage dump," he said.

Soon though, the Rutlands found "angels" coming to their home to help clean up the debris and eventually built a new 3-bedroom, 1-bathroom

house.

"I didn't know what I was going to do. The Mennonites pitched right in -- they gave me piece of mind," he said. "We've got a bunch of angels

running around here. They just came out here and worked."

In Birmingham's Edgewater community, the homes of Robert Craig and his brother's were leveled by the deadly twisters that night.

"It blew the roof off, it blew the sides off," Craig, 44, said.

After being told that not only was the foundation to his then-58 year-old-home cracked but also that the land he owned may be possibly

contaminated by the septic system Craig was left with few options.

He will soon be in a new home though -- one of 87 the interfaith community rebuilt or repaired in his community -- and he said he couldn't be

more thankful.

Unable to pay for homeowner's insurance due to a disability, Craig said he thought he would never set foot in his own home again. But just two

weeks before Christmas, Craig will unlock a door to a single-story, 3-bedroom home.

"I've got a big red bow for my door already," he said, adding that the outpouring of relief has been a comfort. " It's more than I can expect. It's

like they ask, 'What would you like?'"

Crow said that the interfaith groups have been helping families like the Rutlands and individuals such as Craig by giving them not only a

chance to rebuild their houses, but also their lives.

"I find that there's a new light of hope out there," said Crow.


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