I arrived in Tuscaloosa, AL last Tuesday afternoon. As soon as we arrived, my team and I went and registered with FEMA and got straight to work. Ever since then I have done a variety of tasks; we have done debris removal with the Perry Point, Maryland team, worked in the Volunteer Reception Center registering volunteers and logging volunteer hours, worked in the Salvation Army Distribution center helping to organize the items as well as gather and load carts for people, and finally, working with the city doing housing assessments to build a database. Not everything has been super entertaining, but it has all been needed and very fulfilling.
Needless to say that it is hot down here, welcome back to the South. The heat and humidity makes the debris clean up and even the housing assessments tiring work. With the debris clean up we are helping with the initial phases of dragging limbs and bucked trees out to the street and with the final phases of raking cleared lots and removing smaller debris that was left behind by the heavy equipment. With the housing assessments we are given a quadrant within a zone to focus on. We go to the addresses given to us, photograph the front and back of the property, and fill out an assessment form. Doing that in some areas proves to be especially difficult when entire blocks have been destroyed and there are no house numbers to go by.
As for the other work, it is pretty mindless tasks. Logging hours on the internet database, registering volunteers, sorting canned items, de-barcoding items, putting together snack bags, but are still rewarding. We have gotten to meet some awesome people helping at the VRC and Salvation Army, not to mention providing people who have lost everything with some supplies that would normally be taken for granted.
Our living arrangements couldn't be better. Our sponsor is the Forest Lake Baptist Church, which was right in the center of the tornado's path. The church suffered roof damage, as well as lost several stained glass windows, but has been a beacon to the community, offering refuge immediately after the tornado in fear of another, as well as providing a relief center with supplies, much like the Salvation Army. We are staying at the church in their "youth chamber," basically the basement. We have a fully functioning kitchen, air conditioning, a game room, and they have been provided with a shower trailer from the Texas Baptist Convention, which is also air conditioned and provides laundry services. Our gracious hosts, Debbie and Kyle (church couple) make sure we have everything we need, including providing a hot meal for us every night. How fortunate we are to be provided with such gracious accommodations during a time like this.
Words do not do the destruction justice, so here are some of the pictures I have taken since I have been here. I will try and update our work here as often as possible.