PRATT CITY, Ala. – Tornado victims in splintered Southern towns say volunteers are ensuring they’re well-fed and warm at night, whether by refilling blood pressure medicine or patrolling neighborhoods in a grocery-filled pickup truck. At least a few, though, say they need more from the government: help getting into their homes and cleaning up endless debris.
Across the twister-ravaged South, students and church groups aggressively tended to those who needed it most, clearing away wreckage and handing out food and water. Wednesday’s tornadoes marked the second-deadliest day of twisters in U.S. history, leaving 342 people dead across seven states – including 250 in Alabama. Thousands were hurt, and hundreds of homes and businesses have vanished into rubble.
Federal Emergency Management Agency workers provided information to people in shelters about how to apply for help. National Guard soldiers stood watch, searched for survivors and helped sift through debris. Churches transformed into buzzing community hubs.
In Tuscaloosa, a Red Cross shelter was distributing clothes and providing counseling for folks like Carol Peck, 55, and her 77-year-old mother. She said the shelter’s first-aid station even refilled her blood pressure pills without her having to ask.
In Ringgold, Ga., Poplar Springs Baptist Church had become an informal help center. Crews were dispatched from the church, some with chain saws to chop through the debris, others with bottled water and food. Inside the gymnasium, a barbecue buffet was feeding those without power.
“You’ve got elderly people out there who can’t get out there and do it,” said volunteer Kathleen Hensley, 40, of Ringgold. “They need a hand.”
The University of Alabama’s athletic department was pitching in around hard-hit Tuscaloosa, with more than 50 athletic training students giving Gatorade, bottled water and protein bars to residents.
Niki Eberhart, whose home in the Alberta City neighborhood of Tuscaloosa was shredded by the tornado, said Saturday that her husband and two children are getting everything they need at the shelter. And it isn’t the first time they’ve counted on the Red Cross. When their home in Meridian, Miss., burned down last year in an electrical fire, Eberhart said the Red Cross responded within an hour.
“We feel like we’ve been blessed,” she said. “Both times it could have been much worse. We lost things. Material possessions can be replaced.”
As some tried to clear the rubble and sort through belongings, others took on the task of burying the dozens who died. But planning funerals was a struggle for many as they dealt with destroyed homes. There were also 35 deaths in Mississippi, 34 in Tennessee, 15 in Georgia, five in Virginia, two in Louisiana and one in Kentucky.
“A few of the families I met with, they’ve lost everything,” said Jason Wyatt, manager of Tuscaloosa Memorial Chapel.