Alabama Tornado Cleanup

Posted: May 22, 2011 in Current Events, Miscellaneous
Tags: , , , ,

Pleasant Grove prior to the April 27th tornado.

Pleasant Grove after the April 27th tornado.

I got the opportunity to help in the tornado cleanup efforts yesterday.  Words will not do justice of what I saw, but I will try, and I also have a few other comments I want to toss in:

  • The area was working in yesterday is a small community just west of Birmingham called Pleasant Grove .  The amount of damage and destruction in this little town is indescribable.  You would go through one neighborhood and think ‘wow, it doesn’t get any worse than this’.  Then you would hit another neighborhood and realize that you were wrong.  Another thing that strikes you is just how widespread the damage is.  We are not talking about just a neighborhood or two.  This is just blocks and blocks of major damage and complete destruction spread over miles and miles.
  • At one location where we were working, there was a big ravine in which on the other side was woods.  If you looked over to your left, everything was as thick and alive as ever.  Then when you looked over to your right where the tornado had clearly made its path, nothing but a few fallen trees and stumps that were left behind.  It was an amazing contrast.
  • At this same location, houses were just destroyed.  Not damaged.  Destroyed.  The particular lot we were on, the debris was not where the house once stood.  It had been blown down the hill into a wooded area behind here the house used to be.  As you are cleaning up, when you are picking up things like plaster, wood, insulation, etc., that is one thing.  But then you start finding personal items like clothes and books and it really hits you that somebody lived here.  This was somebody’s home.  It has to be such a tough thing for the victims to go through.
  • Ten people died in Pleasant Grove that day.  Looking at the town, it is just amazing it wasn’t a whole lot more.  Once again, working on this particular lot, I thought there was no way somebody could survive this.  Yet the owner was there, very much alive.  She and her family had gotten into a vehicle in the carport that was somewhat built into the ground.  There were two other vehicles.  Those had been destroyed.  As near as I can tell, she had somehow gotten into the only location where the family could have survived.  Miracle is a word that is used too often, but it was the word that I uttered when I heard the story.  I don’t know how else you can describe it.
  • There is a LOT of work that still needs done.  I’m hoping that all the surrounding communities can sustain the effort.  (Supposedly the clean-up effort “ends on June 4th” at Pleasant Grove according to the Pleasant Grove city website.  I have a hard time believing all the debris will be moved to curbside by then, and wonder what the contingency plan is.)
  • It really is a small world: (1) An older gentleman that I was riding to a work site with mentioned that his ex-wife lived in Pleasant Grove.  As we were going, we turn on a street, and he says she lives on this street.  Turns out, we were assigned his ex-wife’s next door neighbors yard.  Turns out his estranged son was there.  He even came out to help us work.  How cool is that?  (2)  Another older gentleman I met were chit-chatting while waiting for our next assignment.  He asks me where I was originally from.  I try to decide which larger city that I think he might have heard of, Memphis or Jackson, Tennessee, because I’m from a small town nobody has ever heard of.  I decide to roll the dice and see if he has ever heard of Jackson.  He says, “Yeah, my wife is from Trenton, Tennessee”.  What?!!!  That’s the exact small town where I grew up.  A little town of less than 5,000 people.  What are the odds of that?
  • I have to thank the folks at Mountain Chapel United Methodist Church for letting me join them to work.  You will not find a harder working group than this bunch.  I was just trying to keep up.  Also, big thanks to the local Pleasant Grove church (sorry, I’m not 100% sure of the name of the church and I don’t want to get it wrong) that served the volunteers the hot lunch.  The food was so good and plentiful!  And thanks to the folks that were handing out the cold water and snacks out in the field.  It’s really been great how the local organizations and churches have stepped up to the plate volunteering in this time of need.
  • Not stepping up, the city of Birmingham government.  Apparently a pissing contest between the city council and the mayor has erupted over how to handle the cleanup in areas hit within the city limits.  C’mon folks, I know squabbling is often what you do best, make a decision and get somebody working!
  • I was listening to the radio and a FEMA representative was on and there was an implication of some frustration with FEMA from the Pleasant Grove community.  Further research turned up a town meeting with FEMA where residents were venting about claim rejections.  I was listening to the rep. on the radio saying that “denial” letters were really “need more information” letters.  I couldn’t help but wonder if they aren’t really “denial” letters, why not remove denial from the language.  A Google search reveals that this has been a misunderstanding that has been happening for years.  It’s understandable, I don’t think it’s intuitive when you ask for assistance and get deny to just turn around and ask again.

If you can help out, we in this state would appreciate it: How You Can Help


  1. Thank you for giving of yourself to your neighbors..I know you aren’t doing it for recognition…I love to see the spirit of care, concern for your fellow neighbors put into action, keep of the good work.

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