Neglected Communities in Linden, AL
Alabama State Conference President, Benard Simelton, received an anonymous call saying that there was a community in Linden, AL that had been completely ignored by relief and recovery efforts. When I called to check in with Mr. Simelton on my way back from Mississippi he asked me to check out the situation and report back with my observations and recommendations.
I drove into the town of Linden, which, as it turns out, is the county seat for Marengo County. My first impression was of one of the many small towns I had now traveled through where the biggest store was Dollar General. I’ve been to more Dollar General’s in the past couple of weeks than I’ve ever been in my life, I must say. Anyway, as usual, it was at the DG that I was able to get the information I needed to do what I had to do. A fellow who was working in back came forward at the request of the cashier and gave me exact directions on where I can find the devastated areas. He also stated without prompting that he was glad I was there because “No one is paying attention to those people out there and they really need the help!”
As directed, I drove up the road and, just as stated, when I looked to my left I could not miss the sight of extreme destruction which appeared to have been frozen in time, a month after the tornado occurred on April 15th. I turned into the community and was immediately struck all over again by the sheer power of the storm as I stopped for a moment to gaze at a piece of metal that was wrapped around a tree and contemplated the force it must have taken to put it there.
Metal from trailer home twisted around a tree
The next thing I noticed was two people. One was a man bent over with a garden hoe tilling the soil. At that moment, surrounded by twisted metal, felled trees, abandoned household items, etc., I was filled with a sense of awe, wonder, and inspiration. Amidst all of this carnage, this man was determined to tend to and maintain the vegetable garden he had started before the storm, even while his house lay in ruins several hundred feet away.
Mr. Clark--Saving His Vegetable Garden
I walked up and was pleased to meet Ms. Gloria Clark. She shared that their family had moved from Tuscaloosa three years ago to the quiet of Linden, AL and built a home from the ground up where she lived with her husband and grandson. On the day of the storm when they heard it coming, they huddled in the hallway and she laid on top of her grandson and her husband laid on top of both of them. She described how it felt like it happened in a blink of an eye while at the same time it was almost in slow motion as they watched the power of the storm lift the roof from over their heads. As they watched the swirling wind above their heads, they were just grateful that their fervent prayers were answered and it didn’t take them as well. The Clark family is fortunate to have homeowners insurance though they lamented that it will not come close to replacing the antiques or the family mementos.
Clark Home--Minus the Roof
Clark Home Living Room
Ms. Clark sorts through the remnants
After sharing her own story, Ms. Clark was extremely gracious to be my tour guide for all of my time in the Linden community as we picked our way through overgrown brush and rubble to walk around and dodged territorial dogs that had been left to guard family property.
One of the many damaged homes in Linden
Twisted remnants of a trailer home frame
First we met Mr. Ogden. He, his wife, and his children, a 5 year old son and a 7 year old daughter, had survived the storm in their home. Their home was demolished and the family traumatized. Now, Mr. Ogden says that whenever there is rain or even cloudiness, their son gets very scared and is afraid he is seeing funnel clouds all the time. Mr. Ogden admits that prior to the storm, they watched a few too many episodes of the Weather Channel and the combination was a frightening cocktail for his young son. He has since declared a moratorium on the Weather Channel.
Ogden Family Home
Wall from Ogden home blown against neighbor's house
Mr. Ogden's surveys what's left of the master bedroom
The Ogden family was also fortunate to have homeowners insurance, but the insurance fell far short of covering the extreme losses. So now Mr. Ogden is doing the necessary dance of applying for an SBA loan, which must reject them before they can apply for a FEMA claim. Now the family is in temporary housing and he , his son, and nephew, were at the site of their home trying to salvage some of the household items and begin the massive process of rebuilding their lives.
Mr. Ogden's son and nephew salvage usable home contents
As we continued our walk about, we saw a trailer which had blown off its foundation, flew through the air for several yards and slammed against a tree and landed up-ended on its side. Ms. Walker described how the owner was pinned in the trailer, crying for help which everyone could hear as they emerged from the wreckage of their own homes. The woman was rescued by the neighbors, led by Mr. Ogden, who crawled through rubble in the dark and the rain to get to her. She’s in a nursing home now recuperating.
Space where trailer used to be
Flung trailer, only stopped by a copse of trees--somehow the elderly inhabitant survived
We found another trailer that somehow was completely turned upside down but fortunately all of the inhabitants survived. Another home was also destroyed to such an extent that it’s a wonder that the residents survived, but they did. There were certainly injuries as one man broke his neck but survived. Sadly one of the residents was reportedly literally split in half and he was the only fatality in the community.
Home totally upended, yet residents only had a few scrapes
Amidst the horrific wreckage, a lone pristine looking pillow dangles in the front by a broken rafter
FEMA came through and conducted assessments. The Red Cross set up a center for a week or two. According to residents, the local government has been less than responsive. The community felt like the attention they received was infinitesimal compared to other areas and when one considers the extensive needs.
Lawrence County Family Loses Much
Led by Jack Steele, NAACP Branch President in Lawrence County, I viewed a scene that had become all too familiar of plot after plot of property with a pile of lumber, tin, and household goods that used to comprise a family or individual’s home. He told us of one family where the father had lost his house, the son had lost his house, AND the family had lost the barbecue business. Fortunately, President Steele stated that most residents had insurance. Still, he says, he wishes that the branch had been able to do more to assist devastated residents.
Against the backdrop of another ominous sky only the smoker remains of the family barbecue business
Tanner in Limestone County, AL Repeats the Horrors of 1974
Though I started this journey in Tanner eight days prior, I returned to learn more. Leon Steele, cousin of Jack, showed me more and shared other stories. He showed me the home of one man who had climbed into a hole in the foundation of his house. That tiny section of the foundation turned out to be the only piece remaining when the storm was over. All else was blown away. This man’s home was destroyed for the second time. The first time was in the storm of 1974. He doesn’t plan to rebuild. Another person, Mr. Steele shared, lost his wife and child in the storm of 1974 and has now lost his home again.