June 10, 2011

Blogger: Tuscaloosa "too strong, loving and proud" not to rebuild

Posted: 11:35 AM ET

*About a week after tornadoes ripped through Tuscaloosa, Alabama a message popped up in the @morn_eXpress twitter feed... it read: "@winnieawright: Turned down an internship with HLN and the Morning Express with Robin Meade so I can stay in Alabama and rebuild." Well, we couldn't just let that go. We contacted @winnieawright (real name: Winnie Wright) and asked if she'd keep us posted on Tuscaloosa. This is the last of 4 planned entries about how that community is recovering:

This past month I have been blogging about people who have made a big difference in Tuscaloosa since the storm passed. The Humane Society, the athletes, and the mayor have all risen to the occasion. But I’d like to end my blog with the group that has made the biggest influence on the lives of people in Tuscaloosa County: the volunteers.

Sign outside 'Temporary Emergency Services' in Tuscaloosa - Photo by Winnie A. Wright
Sign outside 'Temporary Emergency Services' in Tuscaloosa – Photo by Winnie A. Wright

Just minutes after the tornado passed, people from all walks of life came to Tuscaloosa to do whatever they could. They had no idea where they were going, and no idea what they were supposed to do, but they wanted to help. Students from the university, retired soldiers, the rich, the poor and even out-of-towners pitched in any way they could.

Churches were the first organizations that took volunteers. Before the smoke had even cleared, survivors needed refuge, and the volunteers wanted to be told where to go. The churches in Tuscaloosa took calls from individuals and sent volunteers to their homes as quickly as they could. At one point, the day after the storm, volunteers had to be turned away. There were just too many.

Temporary Emergency Services or TES has been receiving donations and volunteers since just hours after the tornado hit. They have been open seven days a week taking in items and redistributing them to the people of Tuscaloosa. TES was once a thrift store, but now, for many, it is their only hope. When FEMA arrived they handed out vouchers. If you had one then you were able to get anything you needed from TES for free. Since then there has been no shortage of volunteers or donations.

I really can’t thank the volunteers enough for everything they’ve done. The Red Cross, FEMA, Samaritans Purse, and countless other organizations simply dropped what they were doing and came to our rescue. These volunteers really helped to get the ball rolling in Tuscaloosa. There is definitely still much more to be done, but in those first few days, the volunteer organizations really knew how to set the precedence.

I know that I am simply a student. I did not grow up in Tuscaloosa. But after three years, Tuscaloosa is beginning to feel like home to me. Every year the city of Tuscaloosa welcomes thousands of crazy college students with open arms. I have always felt a sense of community in Tuscaloosa, and that only grew after the storm. Tuscaloosa is a city of love. People genuinely care about each other. I don’t know of many other places where your neighbors would help you before they helped themselves.

Tuscaloosa is going to rebuild. She prides herself on being a “City of Champions.” Like the mayor said, we will be better, faster, and stronger, and I have absolutely no doubt that Tuscaloosa will continue to do great things. The people here are too strong, loving, and proud not to. I just hope that I am lucky enough to live in a place like Tuscaloosa after I graduate.

If you would like to donate to TES please visit

This was Winnie's last scheduled update from Tuscaloosa, but the challenges there are far from over. If you would like to help with the continuing relief efforts visit IMPACT YOUR WORLD for links to charities and organizations who will gladly accept your donations or help you find volunteer opportunities.

Our thanks to Winnie for keeping the spotlight on Tuscaloosa and its road to recovery in the aftermath of the disaster. Her smart, heartfelt and personal impressions have been inspirational and thought-provoking. We're sorry we did not get to work with Winnie this summer, but if these posts have been any indication, we're certain we'll be seeing and hearing more from her in the future.

"Morning Express with Robin Meade" will continue to bring you updates on Tuscaloosa and many of the other cities that suffered so greatly during the late spring storms.

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Filed under: Tornado disaster recovery

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May 20, 2011

Potential intern's Tuscaloosa tweet becomes blog

Posted: 11:03 AM ET

*About a week after tornadoes ripped through the American south a message popped up in the @morn_eXpress twitter feed... it read: "@winnieawright Turned down an internship with HLN and the Morning Express with Robin Meade so I can stay in Alabama and rebuild." Well, we couldn't let this end there:

My name is Winnie Wright. I am a broadcasting student at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. I recently applied for an internship with HLN and was looking forward to spending the summer in Atlanta. But after the tornado, I took myself out of the running for the internship. I felt like I had a higher calling, and
that was to be in Tuscaloosa working with the relief efforts. Not long after I made my decision, I was contacted by The Morning Express with Robin Meade team to see if I wanted to blog
about the recovery. I accepted their invitation and so for the
next four weeks I will be giving you a first-hand account of what is going on in Alabama

Every time I leave Tuscaloosa, people want to talk about the tornado. They ask me how I am, how my friends are, and if my home is okay. Then, I’m asked if I was scared when it hit, or
what it was like, but what they don’t understand is that I don’t want to talk about it anymore. Tuscaloosa doesn’t want to talk about it anymore. We felt the pain. But now, we want to talk
about the future and what we are going to do next. We all have one common goal: restore Tuscaloosa back to its former glory.

As soon as the tornado passed people were on the move. The minute I left my shelter I saw trucks filled with men and chainsaws. I’m not sure they knew where they were going, but they knew there was a neighbor somewhere in need. The entire city rallied together to get to work. No one knew the extent of the damage, but they weren’t going to sit around and wait to be told what to do. FEMA hadn’t arrived, The National Guard wasn’t here. It was just us. Most of the city didn’t even have power, yet everyone wanted to do what he or she could.

When news started pouring in, groups were formed to provide immediate relief. Community leaders, student organizations and churches started putting together teams of volunteers. The University of Alabama let students use the recreation center as a donation drop-off point and a refuge. Student volunteers worked at “the rec” in any way that they could. Students and people in the community were donating clothes, diapers, food, and everything you could imagine.

While at “the rec”, I saw a woman pushing a shopping cart full of animals that she had found in her neighborhood. She knew they were someone’s pets, so she picked them up and took them with her. This led me to wonder, what would become of all the animals that also lost their homes? Was anyone worried about the pets? That’s when I heard that the Humane Society of West Alabama, the Metro Animal Shelter, and Ttown Paws were all coming together to provide relief for the pets. The animals were given a safe place to stay, but they desperately needed donations. After I had done what I could for the people staying at the shelter, I went and bought dog and cat food to donate. I would simply want someone to do the same for my pets. When I went to my parents’ house I talked to the manager of a local pet store. I told him what was going on in Tuscaloosa and about the animals. He ended up giving me a business card. He said he would talk to the corporate office about making a large donation for the pets in Alabama. I understand in times of crisis people always consider human life and property first, but I was glad that there are people who shared my same concern for the pets in West Alabama.

The Humane Society and other shelters are still accepting donations. If you would like to help out please visit for more information.

More from Winnie next week right here. Meanwhile, for more ways you can help the people of Tuscaloosa and all of the other cities and towns across the south who were impacted by April's historic tornado event, or who are coping with flood waters up and down the MIssissippi River right now visit and click on the "Impact Your World" icon.

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Filed under: Extras • Guest Blogger • Tornado disaster recovery

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It's Morning Express like you've never seen it before! Hear from Robin Meade and the rest of the show crew for our thoughts on everything from politics to sports... to those bizarre stories that have us buzzing behind the scenes. Plus, plenty of material you might not see on the air. Don't miss OUR TAKE on what's happening in the world. Then tell us YOURS!

Robin Meade
Delivering your dose of morning news, to get you out of bed and off to work.
Robin Meade
Bob Van Dillen
From tracking storms to airport delays, Bob is your weather and travel expert.
Bob Van Dillen
Jennifer Westhoven
Jennifer has the tips you need to take action on stories affecting your wallet.
Jennifer Westhoven