Nature’s Fury—Chronicling the Devastating Effects of Climate Change in the US South

When I arrived in Huntsville, Alabama yesterday I was met by Alice, Veronica, and Reverend Shanklin (former NAACP Alabama State Conference President) the intrepid members of the Huntsville Branch of NAACP who have been doing relief around this disaster since it struck including delivering goods, helping people access services, connecting lost family members, etc.

We stopped for breakfast and met up with Second Vice President of the Alabama State Conference, Steve Branch. As we sat munching, the store manager who overheard us making our plans to for the day came over and shared that he and his co-worker lost a high school friend in “The Storm” and that the same friend had lost a home. He then introduced us to Sherry who shared that her house had been leveled. Her 13 year old son, who was home alone, somehow survived with only a few cuts and bruises. She said that when he came out of the house and saw nothing but wreckage as far as he could see, he thought he was “the only one left” which was a chilling thought. He just took off running and ran and ran until he finally came across some people.

We left the restaurant and headed for Harvest, which is a community near Huntsville. There we found a center, run by the Harvest Youth Group, that had been set up to process volunteers and provide assistance. In Harvest there were previously 80 homes, but after the ravaging of the community by the tornado of April 27th 2011, there were only 9 homes still standing.

 

 

We went to a press conference/resource fair where booths were set up to do grief counseling, mental health assistance, FEMA was set up to provide guidance on claims filing, insurance companies were providing information, etc. On the stage political representatives were sharing availability of resources and representatives of the Red Cross and FEMA were doing the same. Inside a large gym was set up where they had trays and trays of all kinds of food that was being given for free to all. One thing that struck me was the disparity of those on the stage giving out information and those holding the ladles dishing out food, VERSUS those on the ground at the microphone seeking assistance as well as those holding the plates receiving food. As you’ll see below, every last person on stage holding the power and the information were white and most of the questioners were African American and all of the folks giving out food were white while those receiving the food were significantly more African American than not.

Mr. Branch and I went our own way from Harvest and headed for Tanner where we joined up with Wilbert Woodruff, the President of the NAACP Limestone County Branch, at a store and encountered a woman, Ms. Pryor who told us of her story of being in her home when the tornado struck. We went out to take a look at her property. Ms. Pryor and her son had managed to find relatively secure shelter in a hallway while much of her home was demolished around her. She is now in a struggle with her insurance company who refuses to write off her home in spite of the statements by several contractors that her home is a total loss. Oddly, the same company wrote off the home next door which had much less in the way of visible damage, as compared to her home where have of it was literally a pile of rubble.

Otherwise, Mr. Woodruff had been hard at work with communities in Tanner that had been severely impacted by the tornadoes. He took me on a drive through the communities.

Throughout the day I heard stories of triumph and stories of tragedy, stories of miracles and many stories of resilience. Steve Branch spoke of how he was on his way to take his nephew to pay rent on the trailer. They reached the area where the trailer was and did a double take as they saw a scattered pile of debris where his nephew’s home used to be. One person told the story of a four year hold boy who had been put in a deep freezer “by a man with wings”. The home he was in came down around him but he survived, unable to free himself because of the debris on top of the deep freezer, but able to open to lid enough to get enough oxygen to survive until he was later discovered.

On a note of hope, faith, and altruism, that I know will take the communities through this tragedy and beyond, I end with an image that personifies out communities have pulled together in the aftermath.