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Tornado survivors salvage belongings

BY P.J. HELLER | Tuscaloosa, AL | December 20, 2000

Residents here continued to pick up the pieces of their homes and the pieces of their lives in the aftermath of a killer tornado

which slammed into the area over the weekend.

"Oh, God, it's been devastating," said Joan Perry, as she and her 21-year-old daughter Misty salvaged what little they could from

the flattened remains of their mobile home. "We have nothing left."

As volunteer workers used chainsaws to cut away fallen trees on her home and pull apart the mangled metal pieces, Perry

picked through the rubble, at one point finding a Christmas present still wrapped in red paper.

Perry and her daughter weren't home when the tornado touched down. Her husband, Mike, was in the trailer at the time and

suffered minor injuries.

"When we got here, he was crawling out from under the debris," she said.

"I've never seen anything like this before," Perry said of the tornado. "It was my very first and I hope it's my last."

Roger Holderfield, his head showing the scars from injuries he suffered when the twister lifted him out of his mobile home, also

shuffled through the scattered wreckage of his home, picking up what little wasn't smashed to smithereens.

"I had (Christmas) presents all ready to go," he said. "They're all gone."

Despite the total destruction of the home he lived in with his 14-year-old daughter, Holderfield said he still had something to be

thankful for this holiday season.

"I'm alive," he noted.

With unseasonably cold winter weather hitting the area -- forecasts early Monday had predicted that up to 2 inches of snow was

on the way -- residents raced to move what they could out of the elements.

By Monday evening, a cold rain was falling. A winter weather advisory was issued with forecasters warning of icy streets by

morning but said the area would likely not see any snowfall.

Workers, meantime, continued to repair roofs and cover windows of houses that were damaged by the F-4 tornado which hit

Saturday afternoon, killing 11 people. A twelfth person was killed in Geneva, about three hours away. At least 75 people were


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.

Alabama Power Co. continued working to restore power to customers before more cold weather arrived. The company also

announced it was donating $100,000 for storm relief throughout the state.

"The devastation is unbelievable," said Mike Garrett, executive vice president of the utility. "Some of those individuals and

families have nothing and we feel it is time for the entire state community to rise to the occasion to help get them back on their


Alabama Power also set up four tents where workers were serving hot meals and refreshments to survivors of the storm and

emergency workers. At least 550 meals were served, according to Gene Lacey, a member of the utility's storm response team.

One of those tents was at the Valley View Baptist Church, which transformed its gymnasium into a distribution center for food,

clothing, bedding, and toys.

The church had been turned into a makeshift relief center shortly after the twister touched down Saturday afternoon when

authorities brought residents from the nearby Hillcrest Meadows subdivision to the church. More than 50 medical personnel

were on hand to provide care, if needed.

"It's been an opportunity for our church to minister not only to our members but to our community," explained Associate

Pastor Scott Payne.

"I'm thankful for the most part," he added. "I know we lost 11 people and I'm very sad about that. I also know it could have

been a lot worse."

One reason the number of fatalities was low was because the twister hit during the afternoon, when many residents were out

doing their holiday shopping.

In Tuscaloosa, which was the hardest hit area in the state, at least 400 homes were damaged or destroyed, according to Ronnie

King, an American Red Cross volunteer doing damage assessments.

President Clinton announced that federal disaster aid was being made available to nine Alabama counties affected by the severe

weekend weather.

"The President is very concerned about the terrible loss of life and destruction caused by these devastating storms," said James

Lee Witt, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), who was expected to tour the area Tuesday. "He

acted quickly in committing the necessary federal resources to ensure that all those in need get help as fast as humanly possible."

Help was either already flowing into the area or was on the way from individuals, relief organizations and the faith-based


The Red Cross had emergency response vehicles in the area and was manning several shelters. Few people were staying in the

shelters overnight but they were filled with upwards of 500 people during the day, reported John Clizbe, vice president of

disaster services for the Red Cross in Washington, D.C.

Clizbe, who flew here from Washington, said mental health professionals and nurses would be going through the affected

neighborhoods on Tuesday to offer additional assistance.

Help was also either being provided or on the way from faith-based organizations.

The Salvation Army was operating three mobile canteen units, providing some 2,500 meals a day, according to Lt. Philip Swyers,

commanding officer for the Salvation Army in Tuscaloosa.

He said a distribution center was being set up at the University of Alabama. Also planned was a distribution on Friday of

Christmas toys to children affected by the storm.

Shirley Norman, a disaster resource consultant with Church World Service, was en route to the area Monday to work on setting

up a long-term interfaith response.

Representatives of United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) were reported doing damage assessments in Tuscaloosa as

well as cleanup and assessments in Geneva to the south.

Representatives from several Mennonite congregations were manning chain saws and helping clear the debris.

Individuals, like Don Lathem and his two young sons, were also lending a hand cleaning up, although police were still limiting

access to the affected areas.

"We believe in helping our fellow neighbor that needs help," Lathem said. "They can't help themselves right now."

Their assistance appeared to be welcomed.

"It just seems that everybody wants to help," said Sarah Braswell as she watched workers carry furniture and other items out of

her mobile home which was heavily damaged but which remained standing.

Workers also helped her remove a refrigerator and washing machine which had landed on the hood of her car.

"We've had strangers come up to us, people we've never seen before (to offer help)," Perry added. "All you can say is thank


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