June 18, 2011 in Nation/World

Phil Campbells rush to Phil Campbell’s aid

Men from around the globe pitch in at tornado-torn city
Jay Reeves Associated Press
Associated Press photo

A group of men help clean up tornado debris in Phil Campbell, Ala., on Friday. A number of Phil Campbells were planning a visit to the Phil Campbell Hoedown, and came early to help the citizens clean up before their annual celebration.
(Full-size photo)

PHIL CAMPBELL, Ala. – After the small Alabama city of Phil Campbell was ravaged in April by a tornado that killed more than two dozen people and hurt even more, a select group from around the world offered to help: men named Phil Campbell.

Phil Campbells from across the globe are converging this weekend on the hard-hit city of 1,150 for the “I’m With Phil” convention, a gathering meant to raise spirits, money and new roofs.

Phil Campbells are cleaning up storm debris, marching in a parade, donating money to build a Habitat for Humanity house, listening to country music and just showing they care.

“We’re doing whatever it takes to be part of the town for a weekend,” said Phil Campbell of Nottingham, England.

There’s also Phil Campbell from Brooklyn, N.Y.; Phil Campbell from Juneau, Alaska; Phil Campbell from La Farge, Wis.; Phil Campbell from Austin, Texas; Phil Campbell from Glasgow, Scotland; Phil Campbell from Palo Alto, Calif., … you get the idea. A couple Phils from Alabama are here, and two from Australia are expected.

Organizers say 18 Phil Campbells plan to be here before the weekend is out, and they’re not picky on the spelling.

“We are asking all Phil, Philip, Phillip, Philippe, Philipp, Philippa, Felip, Fil, Felipe, Filip, Filippo, Filippu, Filipe, Filype, Phylip, Phillep, Pilib, Fulop, Fulup, Phyllis, Philice, and Philomena Campbells to join us,” said a Facebook group for “I’m With Phil,” the post-tornado name of an event that started years ago as the Phil Campbell Convention.

Located about 95 miles northwest of Birmingham, the town began in the 1880s as a work camp established by railroad crew leader Phillip Campbell, originally of England. It was incorporated in 1911 as the only town in Alabama to have both a first and last name, a distinction it still holds.

After hearing the city mentioned for laughs on the old CBS-TV show “Hee Haw,” Brooklyn writer Phil Campbell visited during a trip to Alabama and decided to organize the first convention in 1995 in the town for people with the same name.

Long before a massive EF-5 twister plowed through the city during the Southern tornado outbreak on April 27, this year’s gathering was planned to coincide with the town’s 100th anniversary celebration scheduled for today. The twister killed 27 residents and injured twice as many, some seriously. Among the city’s 450 or so homes, dozens were destroyed and even more were damaged.

After the tornado, Alaska Phil felt compelled to come back to the town he first visited in ’95. Raised in Oklahoma and familiar with the power of tornadoes, he’s now pastor at Northern Light United Church in Juneau. He took up a collection and raised about $5,000 to help the Alabama town.

“Just because of the coincidence of our names we can do some good,” he said Friday. Then, he pulled on work gloves and joined seven other Phils in clearing limbs and a shattered pavilion outside the Phil Campbell Community Center, now a distribution site serving tornado survivors.

Rather than having just another sweltering weekend in Phil Campbell, the Phils will help in the cleanup and reconstruction. The Phils, some companies and others are donating money to help the nonprofit Habitat for Humanity construct a home. About $35,000 has been raised so far.

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