Alabama families seek help after February 2 tornado

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance grant spurs other donors to assist rural community

February 24, 2016

One of the homes destroyed by the tornado in Aliceville, Alabama, on February 2.

One of the homes destroyed by the tornado in Aliceville, Alabama, on February 2. —Judy Holland, High Socks for Hope Foundation

Louisville

As many as 57 families in a small Alabama town are still trying to pick up the pieces of their lives after a tornado swept through their community on February 2. The twister struck the town of Aliceville (population 2,500), leveling a number of homes. Authorities report up to 35 people lost their homes and have no insurance coverage to rebuild. 

Authorities say that because it was not declared a disaster area, no federal or state aid was available. The Red Cross closed its temporary offices, after completing its immediate response. 

“There were a couple of local organizations and congregations working in the county but no large-scale response,” said Ellen Potts, executive director of Habitat for Humanity in nearby Tuscaloosa. “Whether it’s a large or small-scale disaster, when you look at it as an outsider and your home was destroyed with no way of replacing it, it’s a large-scale disaster to you.” 

Potts recently applied through the Presbytery of Sheppards and Lapsley and quickly received $7,500 in grant funding from Presbyterian Disaster Assistance to go toward the recovery effort. 

“It was so immediate and it was wonderful,” she said. “First Presbyterian Church of Tuscaloosa, at their session meeting, agreed to match that. Our session feels like we were given so much by so many congregations over the years, we felt it was our turn to do likewise.” 

In addition, the Episcopal Diocese of Alabama has contributed $5,000, giving the community $20,000 to go toward rebuilding efforts. Authorities say Aliceville is such a small community that no rental property is available for those displaced. Many are staying with friends or relatives while they determine their next course of action. 

“We’re hoping to build at least two tiny houses for elderly, singles, or couples with disabilities,” said Potts. “The houses will be one bedroom, one bath, kitchen and living room combinations at about 500 to 750 square feet. We will work with other organizations in hopes of providing housing for the remainder of the families.” 

There were no reports of casualties or injuries from the twister, but damage to the affected homes was significant. 

“Organizations like Habitat for Humanity don’t expect PDA to raise all of the funds necessary to restore and rebuild homes for those impacted,” said Rick Turner, national associate for disaster response with PDA. “But much like Jesus multiplied the fishes and loaves of bread to feed the five thousand, contributions like this can leverage other disaster partners to multiply their gifts.” 

PDA has a long history with Tuscaloosa. A tornado destroyed an estimated one-sixth of the city in 2011, and PDA responded immediately. 

“They sent people with expertise in long-term planning. Many organizations come in, deal with the immediacy of a disaster, and then leave town,” said Potts. “It was quite obvious from the beginning that PDA was there for the long term, helping us respond in an organized fashion.” 

Potts said PDA groups keep coming back year after year. 

“We received funding, a truck, tool trailer, and a continuous stream of volunteer support,” said Potts. “Of all of the organizations that came, the blue-shirted Presbyterians were the majority, and I can say that they keep on coming, five years later.” 

Potts believes they can secure the needed volunteers to construct the homes within the county, adding there is no hotel lodging in their area for visiting volunteers. Contributions are welcome. 

For those interested in financially supporting Aliceville residents, contributions can be made through PDA Account Number DR000015.

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