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Volunteers tend to victims in storm-ravaged South

Sunday, May 1, 2011

(Photo)
Michelle Campbell /The Birmingham News ~ Associated PressBible verses accompany bags of sandwiches Friday as volunteers distribute food and water on Cherry Avenue in the Pratt City area of Birmingham, Ala.
PRATT CITY, Ala. -- Whether it's refilling blood-pressure medicine or patrolling neighborhoods in a grocery-filled pickup truck, tornado victims in splintered Southern towns say volunteers are ensuring they're well-fed and warm at night. 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 341 people dead across seven states -- including 249 in Alabama. Thousands were hurt, and hundreds of homes and businesses have vanished into rubble.

Federal Emergency Management Agency workers handed out 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 handing out 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.

She can't explain how it happened, but she suspects her clinic contacted the shelter.

"Evidently, because I sure didn't call," she said. "They knew I was here. I don't know how, but they found me."

In Ringgold, Ga., Poplar Springs Baptist Church had been transformed into 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.

"Anything they have to give athletes, they're giving away," said Jenny Sanders, one of the volunteers.

And most were grateful to get whatever they could.

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.

Gov. Robert Bentley had dispatched 2,000 National Guard troops around Alabama to help residents and keep the peace.

Many blocked off roads or patrolled neighborhoods to keep away gawkers and looters.

Others helped residents sift through their shattered homes.

Carletta Wooley, 27, was going through some of her belongings in Holt, a community just outside Tuscaloosa. A pile of her family's belongings stood at the foot of a tree -- a mirror, some hats, a pillow, a stereo. One of the soldiers picked up a photograph and handed it to her -- it was of her son, when he was a baby.

"I'm going to cry," she said. "Thank you."


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