Nature’s Fury—the Impact of Climate Change in the US South DAY IV–Wednesday

Underserved, But Rallying in Western Alabama (Reform, Carrollton, and Aliceville)

As one drives through Reform, at first you don’t really have a sense that anything has happened unless you know to identify the trucks carrying huge logs as being ones who are clearing up the wreckage of fallen trees due to the tornado. Then, as you pass the elementary school and go up into one of the neighborhoods you see where the tornado dropped down with almost laser focus and did its damage on a swath of houses while leaving all else untouched.

Damage in Reform


More Damage in Reform

In talking with the folks in Reform they said that though some assistance was set up for a couple of days at the National Guard building, soon after anyone needing help would have to travel to Carrollton.

In Carrollton I stopped for gas. After emptying my purse to fill my tank, I was about to go into the station and ask about where the disaster services were being provided when I looked across the street and saw the Pickens Baptist Association Disaster Relief Center.  I went in and found a lovely operation with a set of volunteers providing food, clothing, and a variety of household goods.

Pickens Baptist Association--A Mission to Provide Relief


Pickens Volunteers Sorting Donations


Two conversations revealed additional dimensions of this disaster and the quest for provision of appropriate, accessible assistance for survivors.  I spoke to the daughter of the head of missions of the Pickens Baptist Association. The women described a serious challenge with how dispersed families are and how information and resources aren’t reaching people in distant areas. She also talked about the challenge of people who had homes that had been passed down from generation to generation, but where there is no longer homeowners insurance. She spoke of concern around how families will fill the gap between the total need and the assistance FEMA will provide.

There were two women there collecting goods for six families in Aliceville, which was representative of the very comment made by the volunteer. With a limited number of operational vehicles available and long distances to travel to get assistance, a few people are charged with working the facilitate fulfillment of the needs of the many. Fortunately, this woman is graciously shouldering the weight.

Resilience and Prudence in Geiger

My day wrapped up with a stop in Geiger, AL, a small town of just over 200 people on the border with Mississippi. As I rolled into town, one of the first places I encountered was a FEMA Disaster Recovery Center. I dropped in and found out that the center was actually in City Hall. 

Welcome to Geiger AL!


As I was greeted by reception she introduced me to the mayor.  The mayor spent a generous amount of time with me describing the situation in Geiger. Being a part time truck driver, the mayor was out on a job when the tornado struck. He described his journey into town which, from the highway usually would have taken a half hour, but took 2 hours, due to the clearing of road debris that was necessary for him to arrive into his town. He said as he drove into town and saw the destruction all he could do is stop and hang his head.  He arrived home and found his roof damaged and his shed on top of his truck. In total 56 homes were damaged. He said his town members were walking about in a state of sheer shock, not knowing what to do.

Geiger Damage


Geiger on the Road to Recovery


Mayor Cunningham lauded the efforts of both Red Cross and FEMA. He said that Red Cross came and visited every house in the community conducting assessments. Similarly he thought that FEMA was very responsive and that they had been prompt in paying claims within the promised 8-10 days.   Otherwise he was concerned that some well-meaning folks were giving them more of what they don’t need and not enough of what they do need.  For example he said they don’t need clothes or food, but they do need building materials, heavy equipment, and funding to finance the rebuilding process, particularly for single mothers and elderly people on a fixed income for whom FEMA funding won’t be enough.

FEMA Providing Much Needed Assistance at the Geiger City Hall


Perils of Post-Disaster Diets

At the end of the day on Tuesday I found myself fairly famished and commented on it to one of the Red Cross workers. She pointed out that there was fried chicken and pizza earlier and chided me for not having any. My reply was that I was holding out for something a bit more nutritious and stuck with the one banana I managed to scrounge from somewhere. She looked at me quizzically and said, “That’s disaster relief.”  At first I felt guilty…actually I felt guilty for some time after that I was being a prima donna while folks are really suffering. But then I heard folks at two different relief centers commenting on how they couldn’t get food they could eat because they were diabetic . A friend and staunch social justice advocate friend of mine in Jamaica was found dead on Tuesday of uncontrolled diabetes.  This was a wake-up call. Whether it’s me as a disaster relief worker or the survivors of the disaster, we should have access to foods that aren’t going to victimize health compromised survivors again, on top of the trauma of the disaster. This is a particularly critical point for African Americans with our high rates of diabetes. Fortunately, at one of the disaster recovery centers I noted that Red Cross had “diabetic meals”. We need to work on making sure that life sustaining meals are available and provided in a way that is safe and appropriate for those in need.

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