The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

May 21, 2013

State, local officials weigh-in on Oklahoma tragedy

By Adam Smith

— The images transmitted out of Moore, Okla., following Monday’s deadly tornado have hit close to home for many in Alabama.

The sights of destroyed buildings, crushed vehicles and foundations swept clean are all too familiar to Tennessee Valley residents, especially.

Like the town of Moore, Limestone County has endured similar tornado disasters in 1974 and 2011. And in the case of each of those disasters, the state received helping hands in the recovery process. Naturally, Alabamians now want to help another hurting community.

Gov. Robert Bentley on Tuesday said various state agencies are in contact with counterparts in Oklahoma to offer any assistance needed. He also encouraged Alabamians to keep the people of Oklahoma in their prayers throughout the recovery.

“It’s important for all of us to continue to pray for the people of Oklahoma and their leaders,” he said. “We can identify with what the people of Oklahoma are going through. Our people understand what it means to comfort loved ones, to support survivors and to help in the long-term recovery of communities.”

What else can Limestone County residents do to help? Kaye Young McFarlen, executive director of the Athens-Limestone United Way, said not doing anything would be the best method of help, for now.

McFarlen knows from experience after having coordinated recovery efforts following the April 27 and March 2, 2012, tornadoes while part of the county’s Long-Term Recovery Committee. The Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters (VOADs) in Alabama established the committees following the April 27 tornadoes to assist 42 counties affected by the tornadoes.

“What we would like people to do is hold off on doing anything. If you want to help, give a financial donation through the United Way of Central Oklahoma, Red Cross or Salvation Army,” McFarlen said. “If not, hang on. We don’t need a lot of good (supplies) coming at an inappropriate time.”

A statement from officials with Oklahoma VOAD asked officials in other states to take an inventory of available goods, services and resources. It also asked groups to take inventory of volunteers and their skill sets.

McFarlen said because only specific areas are damaged in a tornado emergency — as opposed to hurricanes that damage entire regions — supplies are easier to find in neighboring towns.

“We probably don’t need to load up cases of water and truck it 11 hours away,” McFarlen said. “Eventually they’re going to need trained volunteers who can help with debris removal or who can help with casework management.”

State officials said it is important for Alabamians not to “self-deploy” to Oklahoma now while search and rescue operations are ongoing.

Local help

Jennifer Pitts Adair was living in the Camden Court subdivision in East Limestone when her home was destroyed by a tornado on April 27, 2011. Alone in the house, she survived by laying on the floor of a bathroom closet.

She chronicled her experience in a book, “Sheltered by God,” which was published last year.

After watching coverage of Monday’s tornadoes in Oklahoma, she was moved to help the victims.

“I started crying when I saw the elementary school and all those people walking around lost,” she said. “It was really hard to see.”

After learning about Auburn-based relief group Toomers for Tuscaloosa collecting gift cards for Oklahoma victims, Adair decided to do the same at the local level.

She launched a Facebook page, Gift Cards for Moore, Oklahoma, and is now inviting residents who want to help victims of the disaster to donate pre-paid gift cards. The cards can be dropped off at the Athens Police Department, and Adair will be at the department on Saturday to collect them.

The cards will be sent to Journey Church in Norman, Okla., where a shelter has been established.

Examples of types of gift cards include Walmart, Target or pre-paid Visa or American Express gift cards in any amount. Those who want to donate, but don’t have the resources to purchase a gift card, can also donate money. Adair said the collected funds will be used to purchase gift cards.

“Any amount is fine; there’s nothing too small or large,” she said.

Adair’s goal amount is $4,027, which is numerically the date of the tornado that nearly claimed her life.

“That was the day I got a second chance at life,” she said.

Other resources

• The American Red Cross: Donations can be made at or by texting REDCROSS to 90999.

• Salvation Army: To donate $10 to the Salvation Army, text 80888 or visit

• Donations can also be made locally to:

The Salvation Army Disaster Relief, P.O. Box 12600, Oklahoma City, OK 73157. Designate Oklahoma Tornado Relief on all checks. Donations can also be made by phone by calling 800-725-2769.

• Feed the Children: If you would like to make a cash donation, call 800-627-4556 or go online to