“Day of Devastation” – that is the name of the book published about the Alabama tornadoes that hit on April 27, 2011. More than 50 tornadoes devastated the State of Alabama that day.
Sunday – July 24th. Our team of 10 from St. Paul Lutheran Church in Grafton, WI are on are way to Alabama to help. I have never been to Alabama and I am looking forward to our trip. We left the church this morning at 7am to make the drive with a rental van and a F350 hauling a 30 foot trailer.
The ride has been long, made longer by the numerous storms that we have had to drive through. The rain started in Chicago and has been on an off all the way through Indiana. Many times it has been raining so hard, we could not see through the windshield of the van.
We stopped for lunch in Lafayette, IN, hoping that the worst of the storm would pass. We still had rain through the remainder of Indiana, but at least it was not as bad. A funny note – I checked an app on my phone to see how much more rain we were going to have to deal with… the app said it was 85 degrees and sunny in Lafayette! So much for technology.
The rest of the ride has gone smoothly with one exception. There is a flat on the 30 foot trailer just south of Nashville. Dale, the driver, will stay to get the trailer fixed while we continue to Alabama in our van.
We arrive safely at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Gardendale, AL. We rolled in around 8:30 pm and Dale made it in about 2 hours later. Pastor Ed gave us a tour of the church, including the rooms we would be staying in as well as how to work the onsite shower trailer. Thank goodness it is onsite!
After our tour, we had to watch a 1 hour video on chainsaw safety then off to bed.
Monday – July 25th. We woke this morning and headed out to Pastor Ed’s to pick up all the gear. Another technology issue – the GPS took us down a one lane road the size of a bike path to get to his house. I have no idea how Dale maneuvered the truck and trailer through that!
We finally arrived at our first job site in Cullman, AL. The minute we drove into the downtown area you could see the devastation. I keep thinking to myself that this happened three months ago! There are still homes without rooftops and debris everywhere.
Cullman was hit by an EF-4 tornado; winds of 190 mph. The damage path is 1/2 mile wide and 47 miles long.
The neighborhood we drive into is abuzz with activity. There are workers on rooftops repairing roofs, people cutting down trees and hauling them to the road right of way for pick up and more. The house we will be working at is on a hilly property, so it looks like a one-story from the front and a two-story from the bottom. All of the windows on the lower level are still covered in plywood.
We go to work trying to cut up the multiple trees that have fallen on the property and into the neighbors property. Some of our team get to work with chainsaws, others learn how to tie certain knots in the ropes we are using, and the rest of us start hauling anything we can pick up. Thankfully we have the skid steer to help move these trees.
We initially came to this property because it was going to take the Army Corp of Engineers too long to get there. We were on the property for maybe 30 minutes and the Corp showed up. They assured Pastor Ed that they would remove the downed trees. He told them that we would finish the one we started on then leave. We certainly can’t leave in the middle of a tree!
The homeowner and her sons come out to thank us before we leave. The first thing she does is give us a hug and says “thank you” – even though we are grimy from dirt and sweat. It’s amazing to see how much this means to them.
I asked her why the lower windows were blown out and not the top ones. She stated that when the tornado hit, the winds were trying to blow through her double french doors, but couldn’t bust through. As a result, the pressure in the lower portion of the house blew out the windows. When they came out of their hiding place after the tornado, she said there was roofing and insulation material throughout their lower level. Their roof had been sucked in to the lower portion of the house. Amazing!
We’re headed to lunch – then to job site #2.
(to be continued)