A GOOD BAMA RISING: Country music band Alabama will host a storm benefit concert called “Bama Rising” at the BJCC June 14. Members of the group made the announcement at a BJCC press conference May 17. They were joined by Birmingham Mayor William Bell and Kate Nielson, president of the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham (CFGB). According to Nielsen, “The funds that come in on June 14… will be used for the long-term recovery.” The lineup will include musicians Brad Paisley, Sheryl Crow and 14 others. All artists will perform for free. Tickets will range in price from $25 to $150 and will go on sale Friday, May 20, at 11 a.m., at www.ticketmaster.com. Learn more at www.bamarising.org, where you can also make donations to the CFGB’s Bama Rising Fund for tornado relief. JC
A DAMNED EXPENSIVE STORM: One way to get your head around the full dimensions of the disaster is to look at some numbers from the new American Red Cross assessment of tornado damage to Alabama residences. The Red Cross uses the information to decide where to place shelters and how to dispense aid. According to a report from the Associated Press May 17, the tornadoes destroyed or seriously damaged about 14,000 homes and caused less severe damage to another 9,400 homes. The twisters caused minor damage to about 9,437 houses, mobile homes or apartments.
The storms could have the largest economic impact of any such event in the state’s history, according to Antrenise Cole in the Birmingham Business Journal May 13. Cole cites a tornado economics expert who says the impact could be as much as $4 billion, counting insured losses, uninsured property damage and other conditions.
The area economy may get at least a small boost over the next few months in one sector, the construction business, as businesses and homeowners receive insurance checks and begin to rebuild, according to the BBJ’s Lauren B. Cooper, also on May 13.
However, area contractors are not necessarily sanguine regarding the prospect of long-term help for their struggling industry. Citing Ken Simonson, chief economist for the Associated General Contractors of America, Cooper reports that “reconstruction after disasters is a lengthy process, with time spent getting reimbursements from insurance companies and federal agencies, drawing up plans and getting approvals.”
Geoff Golden, president of contractor Golden & Associates, tells Cooper, “The real opportunities will lie in rebuilding homes, both single family and multi-family, and improving the community.” According to Golden, “There [are] opportunities for multi-family housing and premanufactured formats that are higher quality.” JC
MY FREAKIN’ PREMIUM IS HOW MUCH!? Reporter Pat Peterson of WKRG-TV in Mobile explored whether the tornadoes in north and central Alabama will cause a big increase in insurance rates throughout the state in a report May 17. According to Peterson, “Insurance companies paying out… money to tornado victims will likely be forced to raise insurance premiums statewide.” Peterson talked to Jason Horn, an insurance agent in Daphne and a member of the Alabama Insurance Reform Subcommittee, who told him that homeowners in Mobile and Baldwin Counties already pay higher insurance premiums than anyone else in the state. Check it out at www.wkrg.com. JC
THE DAMAGE THAT LINGERS: Not all of the damage caused by the storms is as immediate as destroyed homes, uprooted trees or power loss. Many survivors face a threat that may stay with them for months, maybe even years, to come—post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The shock of losing a community, a home or even a loved one may prove too much for some. It is not uncommon for survivors of natural disasters to be affected by PTSD. According to Norfolk Injury Board, a man who lost his home in a 2008 tornado needed three months of psychotherapy to overcome his depression and the anxiety he felt when the sky turned dark. To aid those who might be affected by PTSD, the Alabama Department of Mental Health has initiated what it calls “Project Rebound.” Teams of counselors have been sent to affected areas to offer free counsel to those who have been traumatized by the storm. Free aid is offered in Tuscaloosa at Bryce Hospital, the University of Alabama Medical Center and the UA Psychology Clinic. If you or someone you know might be experiencing PTSD or another form of psychological trauma, seek help. Picking up the pieces doesn’t always just mean fixing up the physical damage. AM
FINDING HOUSING: More than 650 Walker County families were left homeless after the April storms and, according to Emily Luxen of WBRC-TV Fox 6 on May 17, the Walker County Coalition for the Homeless has gotten reports that some families are still living in tents. The Coalition is working with realtors and apartment complexes to help storm victims find housing and with the Jasper Area Family Services center to help victims get housing assistance. The Coalition can, in some cases, help with utility payments or moving costs. Call (205)-387-0511 ext. 5837 for more information. Visit Fox 6 at www.myfoxal.com. JC
DONATE, DONATE: It’s been a few weeks since storms ripped through Alabama, taking lives and livelihoods with them, but the need for aid is still great. To donate goods, visit these nearby locations:
The Birmingham News, 2201 Fourth Ave. North, will accept non-perishable items and water from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day.
First Commercial Bank is accepting donations at all locations. The downtown location is at 215 Richard Arrington Jr. Blvd. North. They are accepting essentials such as water, ready-to-eat food and hygiene products.
Jefferson County Emergency Management Agency has a donation point at 3850 First Ave. South open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Call (205) 238-1247 to find out what they need the most at any given time.
Faith Chapel Christian Center, 100 Lexington St., collects item from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. They are also looking for volunteers. Call (205) 492-2766 for more information.
To find out where your help is needed the most, just use Alabama’s 2-1-1 service. Dial 2-1-1 to find out where you can donate, what is needed and where you can volunteer. For more information on the tornadoes and the relief effort, visit www.fox6roadtorecovery.com. AM
BUT DONATE WISELY: Some relief officials in Alabama are being overwhelmed with stuff they can’t use at all or don’t need right away. They are, in some cases, being given what Jay Reeves of the Associated Press calls “junk donations,” including broken toys, dirty stuffed animals, used underwear and, in Tuscaloosa, a 3-foot-high plastic Santa Claus (ho, ho, ho, indeed). According to Reeves, Alabama agencies are still encouraging people to send items like cleaning supplies for people clearing debris from tornado-damaged homes or cash donations that can cover their expenses or be given to victims, but they often don’t have room to store any additional used toys or old clothes. At a donation center in Phil Campbell, Ala., manager Beth Rhea needs tents and camping gear, because some victims are sleeping outside near their destroyed homes. The Tuscaloosa Salvation Army tells Reeves that they need new underwear, non-perishable foods, pet food and sports drinks. Temporary Emergency Services of Tuscaloosa County has 10 warehouses full of donations, but face a shortage of canned food and cleaning products. Google Reeve’s piece. It’s called “After Alabama tornadoes, junk donations become challenge.” JC
TO GET HELP FROM FEMA: To get disaster assistance, you must register with FEMA. Call (800) 621-FEMA (3362) from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. Those with speech or hearing impairments can call (TTY) (800) 462-7585. Register online at www.disasterassistance.gov or by smartphone at m.fema.gov. When registering, you will need the following information: Social Security number, current mailing address, address of the damaged property, a brief description of the damages; any insurance information, including the policy number and the name of your agent; and a phone number where you can be reached. Assistance for homeowners and renters can include grants to help pay for rental housing, home repairs and other serious disaster-related expenses not met by insurance or other assistance programs. JC
WELCOME TO ALABAMA, FOLKS: As a former long-time resident of the Pacific Northwest who lived through the 2001 Ash Wednesday earthquake in Seattle, Wash., I couldn’t resist sharing this tidbit. According to George Rede of The Oregonian April 30, an ex-Portland couple who now live in Huntsville and survived the Alabama tornadoes warned Northwest residents to be prepared with emergency supplies in the event of an earthquake. “You guys are primed for a big one,” Sharon Canaday told Rede, citing predictions that the Northwest is due for a massive earthquake. “I can’t stress it enough—you’ve got to have a 72-hour survival pack, Sharon, husband Lon and their six kids huddled in their basement during the storms and escaped injury, even though their house was destroyed. Since moving to Huntsville in August 2009, there had been several tornado warnings that forced the Canadays to seek shelter, Rede says. But the threat never seemed as real as the danger of earthquakes in the Northwest, Sharon said. They had enough time to gather possessions between storms, she told Rede, “but with an earthquake you don’t know if you’ll have that.” Read more at www.oregonlive.com. JC
A FINAL WORD: In the days following the storms on April 27, Alabama has faced one of its greatest challenges in living memory. On that day, tornadoes carved a path of destruction through our states, taking homes, cares and lives with it. When the dust settled, we were left to clean up after the most damaging natural disaster Alabama has ever faced. After many recent disasters, Hurricane Katrina and the Deep Water Horizon Oil Spill among them, the aid was either slow in coming, inefficient in execution or simply not there.
Alabama is not one of those communities and our challenge is not one of those disasters, though the scope of the destruction and loss is certainly comparable. In the face of destruction and chaos, Alabama has risen up and met the challenge of its situation with time, money and empathy. The stream of volunteers and donations was both immediate and immense. Where other peoples in other times have failed to meet their challenge, Alabama has succeeded. The road to recovery is not over though. Volunteers, money, water and food are still needed in affected communities. This first wave of aid has proven that Alabama can respond quickly in dark times. The coming weeks will show whether or not we can truly rise again from the wreckage. AM