By Adam Smith
The April 27 tornadoes did irreparable damage to Alabamians in the path of the storms.
Some lost loved ones, homes, belongings and personal items, while others were scarred emotionally and psychologically by Mother Nature’s fury.
The Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters (VOADs) in Alabama worked to establish Long-Term Recovery Committees to cover 42 counties, including Limestone, affected by the April storms.
The mission of LTRCs throughout the state included strengthening disaster coordination by sharing information, simplifying client access and resolving cases with unmet needs. The groups were also tasked to help affected families develop a plan to receive adequate assistance for recovery.
Immediately following the storms, leaders from local churches and nonprofit organizations formed the Limestone County LTRC. Led by the Athens-Limestone United Way, the group initially opened 43 cases for families or individuals with distinct unmet needs.
Despite having more than 12 representatives from agencies with different goals and churches of differing denominations, there were no differing opinions of how to best help hurting residents recover.
“I actually thought it was one of the smoothest things I’ve ever witnessed before,” said Kaye Young McFarlen, executive director of the Athens-Limestone United Way. “Everything was placed on the table and discussed. It’s amazing what can happen when people have a common purpose.”
An early goal of the LTRC was to establish a central point where storm victims could pick up items they needed most, whether it be household items, clothing, construction supplies or food. On June 1, the committee opened a warehouse at 1968 U.S. 31 South to help distribute those items.
“The warehouse was a huge undertaking,” McFarlen said. “The churches had been effectively managing (the donations), but everybody recognized we needed to put everything in one location for those who would qualify.”
After several weeks of giving warehouse access to storm victims, the LTRC eventually decided to give donated food items to the local food banks. It was also decided to split up clothing donations to organizations that operate year-round clothing closets for the needy.
Nine months after forming the LTRC, the original list of unmet needs has dwindled significantly. The group has helped secure long-term housing for some victims, household appliances for others and connected victims with agencies that would be most qualified to meet needs.
In addition to helping those who suffered property and housing losses, the LTRC also helped the farming community. In the weeks after the storms, hundreds of people volunteered to help Limestone Countians get back on their feet, though not all were tasked with hard labor.
“We had youth groups that we couldn’t put in a certain area because of chain saws or heavy equipment,” McFarlen said. “We had the chance to use those groups to help farmers get their fields clean, which was a really neat thing.”
One case the LTRC will soon be able to close is that of the Harbin family in East Limestone. The violent storm cut through the family’s property, taking everything from Bobby Harbin, his wife Barbara and their son Bobby Jr., and leaving the home in Tremont subdivision a pile of rubble.
In January, ground was broken on a new home for the family, built using a combination of funds provided by the Harbins, the United Way and Habitat for Humanity of Athens-Limestone County. And though the family chose to build on the same lot as the previous home, walls of the house will be constructed using ICF, or insulated concrete forms, and it will feature a safe room shelter in the garage.
“Basically, this will be a very windproof and insulated house,” said Greg Miller, executive director of the local HFH. “It will be able to take winds of up to 225 miles per hour.”
Despite all the group’s accomplishments, the Limestone County LTRC isn’t going anywhere. McFarlen said the group has decided to stay together and will continue to meet monthly.
“We don’t believe (April 27) was a one-time thing, because there’s always a chance for a community disaster,” she said. “We believe staying together will allow us to plan for the future and stay on the same page.”
Storm victims with unmet needs are still encouraged to contact the United Way. Earlier this month, a FEMA casework grant enabled the Community Action Partnership of North Alabama to set up shop at the United Way. Two part-time and one full-time caseworker will continue to seek and help any storm victim with unmet needs.
Storm victims in need of assistance are urged to call the United Way or CAP caseworkers at 256-233-2323.