A good friend and long-time Mountain Laker, David Westbrooks, recently updated me on his recent disaster relief trip to my home state, Alabama. I wiped away tears as I read his account, and I couldn’t help but post it here. At the very least, you might gain a healthy perspective of your life. But, I’m praying you’ll be moved to help those in need. Physically, financially, prayerfully. Dive in….
We wanted to share with you our experience assisting people in Alabama who were hit by the tornadoes. We went to a rural area east of Birmingham known as the “Shoal Creek” area. The reason we chose this area is because the minister of our church grew up in this area and lost a childhood friend and his wife in the storm. These people had not been given the attention that many in larger populated areas had due to the fact that they were fewer in numbers. Our group was about the fifth group to have gone over the past week and a half after the storm. Another group went yesterday. We were amazed to find a church group there from Colorado that had taken a whole week of vacation and drove over to help these people. I couldn’t believe that people would care enough to go that far to help people and give up their time.
The area sat in a valley between 2 mountains and the tornado came thru the middle and pretty much gutted it. The entire side of one mountain and the valley pretty much had every tree snapped in half or blown over. Most houses were completely gone with only the slabs remaining. We spoke with several residents there and they said that if you didn’t have a basement, your odds of survival were pretty much nil. There were handmade signs everywhere saying “Thank You Volunteers”. We stopped in a local church and witnessed the incredible generosity from people all over the nation that had sent in everything from food and clothes to supplies. The locals told us that they had more necessities than they could ever use. This is good so they don’t have to worry about those items so much as they put their lives back together and they are making good progress. This community had 12 people get killed. Everyone is pretty much stunned and nervous at the mention of just another thunderstorm passing thru.
We went to FEMA to find out who to help. They had a list of people needing assistance still. They assigned 2 families to us and we were off. The first house we went to help we couldn’t even find because the tornado had blown away the house and the mailbox. We stopped at another house and they took us to the family. The man needing help was deaf but could lip read. He had a business fixing go carts, jet skis, motor bikes and boats. His shop and chicken house had collapsed during the storm and trapped most of his assets inside including items he had been working on. We proceeded to take apart his buildings. We were removing tin roofing, and the wooden roof and siding supports, separating like items into trash piles. He also had a tree that had fallen into the buildings that we had to cut up and remove.
As we began working, we were standing in a field with tall grass and there were hidden fire ant beds. We didn’t know when the ants were on us until they bit us. We learned quickly which areas to avoid. I stepped on a nail which was lovely. It went through an inch of the sole of my hiking boots and into the front fleshy part of my foot near the toes. I got lucky that it went in that part of my foot and it didn’t come out the top. I was fine but paranoid about it. Did have some bleeding but not terrible. Tried not to cuss in front of the church people. (ha ha) We kept working while hearing the stories.
We heard about the deaf guy who we were working on his shop, that he could hear the tornado coming due to the condition of his ears. He asked his family what that horrible noise was as he could make out certain tones that people with normal hearing could not. His family didn’t know what he was referring to until the hail started. They were able to make it up the road to their relatives that had a basement.
We heard of another family that the house fell on killing the parents. Their 3 daughters survived and one of the girls had just about every bone in her body broken. The brother of the deaf guy told us how they went and dug them out. They were unable to get help because there were so many trees down on the roads that emergency vehicles couldn’t get to them and they couldn’t call anyone because all the phones were out including cell. This poor girl had to wait over 24 hours to get help. Then they didn’t have any shelter and another storm came and they had no way to get out of it.
We heard of another father that lost his wife and held his son while he bled to death from debris that had pierced his lungs. Can’t imagine this kind of pain.
Another family had 13 kids and they had no basement. Their house blew up and threw everyone out of it. Everyone survived but one kid got thrown up against a telephone pole and has brain damage.
As we listened to the stories, the pain of the fire ant bites, the nail hole in my foot, the sweat and pain of labor all of a sudden felt as if they were no problem at all. Any discomfort we felt was forgotten and we felt it as an honor just to help these people. And the whole time we were helping them, they kept expressing their gratitude. In the afternoon during a thunderstorm, we went to seek medical help for my foot. We stopped at this small country church and this local lady who had lived thru hell during the past week helped to disinfect my foot. While she was helping me, she told me to pray for my foot and ask God to protect it from infection because I had been willing to come down there and help them. I must tell you I felt guilty and unworthy to even get help from her after what her and her community had been through. She was a blessing to me as she continued to tell me that she believed in the power of prayer and that God would heal my foot. Wow, I was really overwhelmed. As I sat there, I asked her who all the people were that were in the church helping out. She said she didn’t know. That they were all volunteers there to help them. Again, I was touched by all that I saw there as people gave up their lives to help others, even as far away as Colorado.
As we left to go home, it was good to know that we had a home and family to go home to. Our hearts will remain with these people we don’t know. Situations like these cause all of us to put aside our differences and work together for the common good. The situation caused us and them to reflect on what is truly important in life which turns out to be friends, family, and faith.
Please continue to keep the tornado victims in the Southeast in your prayers.
Thanks for this, David. I’m grateful for people like you who live out our faith by meeting needs and loving people.