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Cold slows Alabama recovery

BY PJ HELLER | Tuscaloosa, AL | December 20, 2000

Work crews continued their massive cleanup effort here Tuesday in bone-chilling cold as relief agencies stepped up efforts to help residents affected by last weekend's killer tornado.

Adventist Community Services is coordinating collection and distribution of donated goods at the Skyland Adventist Church in Tuscaloosa. Three of the residents killed in the storm were members of the church.

Lutheran Ministries of Alabama, working with the Episcopal Diocese, is also responding and conducting damage assessments.

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) is rushing $10,000 from a One Great Hour of Sharing offering to the Presbytery of Sheppards and Lapsley to help tornado survivors in Tuscaloosa.

Presbytery Associate Executive Mary Newbern-Williams toured the area and made pastoral visits to local churches. "A disaster such as this dramatically affects the whole family of faith," reported Stan Hankins of PDA.

A Church World Service disaster resource facilitator was in the area in Wednesday.

James Lee Witt, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), toured affected areas in central and eastern parts of the state along with Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman and other elected officials.

Among the areas he visited was the Bear Creek Mobile Home Park where six people were killed and where mobile homes were tossed through the air like match sticks and smashed to smithereens.

"The area where there were so many lives lost, that was pretty devastating," Witt said. "It's just flattened. There's nothing left."

The entourage also stopped at Hillcrest Meadows, an enclave of upscale homes which also took the brunt of the tornado.

"It's a horrible scene," Siegelman said, noting that there were Christmas presents strewn among the wreckage. "It's a terrible scene. It really tugs at your heart."

Witt promised immediate help and urged affected residents to register with FEMA by telephone in order to apply for aid. A toll-free 800 telephone number was set up and the news media broadcast it repeatedly during the day.

FEMA also was scheduled to open three disaster recovery centers on Wednesday, including one in Tuscaloosa (Tuscaloosa County). The other two were planned for Etowah and Dale counties, according to FEMA spokesman Don North.

Both areas suffered damages from twisters which raked the state on Saturday.

President Clinton has declared those counties along with six others as federal disaster areas making them eligible for government aid, including grants and low-interest loans.

Monetary donations from businesses and individuals, earmarked for American Red Cross disaster relief in Tuscaloosa, were pouring in. Mercedes-Benz US International pledged $500,000 with another $100,000 being donated by Alabama Power Co. United Way of West Alabama announced it would donate $200,000 to the relief effort.

At the Valley View Baptist Church, volunteers continued to bring in food, clothing, household goods, and toys wrapped in festive holiday paper.

Volunteers elsewhere said that everyday household items such as pots and pans, cleaning supplies and toiletry items were needed.

With temperatures dipping into the teens and low 20s, the only items of clothing being sought were hats, gloves and scarves. An official said five warehouses have already been filled with other clothing and asked that no more be sent.

Clean-up crews, bundled in hats, warm jackets, gloves and scarves, continued using heavy equipment to clear out the mobile home park. Cars still lay crumpled and smashed, remnants of twisted mobile homes were barely identifiable and clothing and other debris was still visible in the trees. Police continued to seal off the area to onlookers.

The cold weather also may have kept some residents from continuing their search through the rubble for items scattered far and wide by the twister.

For Carolyn Janes, whose mobile home was destroyed in the storm, Tuesday marked the first time she was able to get back to the site to search for her family's belongings. She had been staying by the side of her husband, Tim, who was seriously injured when the twister send their home flying through the air.

"He was here (at the mobile home)," she said. "I wanted him to go shopping with me, but he was cleaning up the kitchen."

Janes said she left home minutes before the tornado struck but had no idea that the storm was closing in on the area.

"I didn't have a clue," she said.

After her car was blown four or five feet off the road, she stopped to call home to let her husband know she was not hurt.

"I thought I would call him and tell him I was OK, but I couldn't get through, so I came back," she said. By that time, her husband had been carted off to the hospital.

"His picture was in the newspaper on Sunday on a stretcher," she said. "He looked really good on the stretcher."

Tim Janes suffered a bad head injury, a crushed right arm which had to be plated and a crushed right foot.

"He's going to be out of work for awhile," she said.

The Janes' teenage son wasn't home at the time and was not injured.

The American Red Cross continued to check on residents still in the affected areas. A command post was set up at the Skyland Boulevard Baptist Church. One shelter set up by the Red Cross at Shelton Community College was virtually deserted during the afternoon.

Officials have said that many people displaced by the storm are staying with friends or relatives. The University of Alabama was also providing housing for displaced families, volunteers and out-of-town relief workers.

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