June 10, 2011
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
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 temporaryemergencyservice.org
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.
June 3, 2011
Posted: 11:12 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 third of 4 planned entries about how that community is recovering:
On May 22, the people of Joplin, Missouri experienced a tragedy all too familiar to me. As soon as the dust cleared, the people of Joplin were in my thoughts and prayers. When I heard of the destruction and the missing, I couldn’t help but go back to April 27, just one month before. I know all too well the sadness and devastation that they were feeling in that moment.
Many of the National Guard trucks, Red Cross workers, and aid stations have packed up and headed for Joplin. The media coverage in Tuscaloosa is nothing but a distant memory. We are old news. Our struggle has been accounted for.
Tuscaloosa candellight vigil. Photo by Winnie A. Wright
But the people of Tuscaloosa have not forgotten the April 27 tornado. FEMA stations are still set up across town to help those hoping to rebuild. Temporary Emergency Services, or TES, still has a line of victims and volunteers in line each morning. Students are still heading out to the rural fringe of Tuscaloosa to help aid clean up. The people of Tuscaloosa have not yet forgotten. There is still much to be done.
On June 1, the city of Tuscaloosa, Alabama gathered for a candlelight vigil to remember those who so adamantly served, and those who passed on April 27. Tuscaloosa’s biggest figures were all in attendance to memorialize the hard work and dedication of the first responders, the policemen and women, and the fire department. Families of the victims were also in attendance. They carried pictures of their loved ones. Many only had one photograph left.
The town wept as the names of the 43 victims were read aloud. This is the last you would hear of our losses. Our story is no longer relevant to the media, but it is still very present in the minds of people in Tuscaloosa. As the death toll rises, the number of missing lessens, but that doesn’t give many a piece of mind.
At the end of the service, Mayor Walt Maddox spoke. He received a standing ovation as he took the mic. The people of Tuscaloosa, Alabama are forever grateful and forever indebted to Mayor Maddox. Without his leadership, focus, and quick response, we would not have made the progress that has been made so far. His ability to rally up armies of volunteers was astounding. He asked for help and Tuscaloosa answered the call.
Mayor Maddox told the crowds at the candlelight vigil that the time to mourn for our city has gone. The rain has passed, and it is time to rebuild a better, faster, stronger Tuscaloosa, he said. He quoted scripture and famous poets. As he did, the people of Tuscaloosa looked at him as though he had all the answers.
Our mayor proved himself on April 27 and the days after. He proved that there could be uninhibited dedication to a city and its people. Maddox proved that all levels of government could cooperate in times of natural disaster. America should never have another Katrina.
Mayor Walt Maddox is a hero in my book. He has shown nothing but poise and focus in the month since we lost a portion of our great city. He is everything that I would want in a mayor. Tuscaloosa’s darkest hour has passed. The media is gone, and soon the aid will be gone. It will just be us. I am glad that I will have a leader like Mayor Maddox. I know he will continue to work tirelessly until Tuscaloosa has been restored to its former glory: a city of champions.
*You can continue to help the people of Tuscaloosa and victims of natural disasters all over the globe. Visit cnn.com/Robin and click on "Impact Your World" for aid services and volunteer organizations who need your help today.
May 27, 2011
Posted: 09:31 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 her second of 4 planned entries about how that community is recovering:
Alabama Head football Coach Nick Saban recently told a group of volunteers “In Tuscaloosa, we aren’t just a team on Saturdays.” After the tornado that ravaged much of the South a month ago, I have found this to be very true. The University of Alabama athletics department and their alum have really impressed me lately. Many former tide players have come back to Tuscaloosa, despite their busy schedules to help with relief efforts in our broken city.
Photo by iReporter Leigh Darilek
Marcel Dareus, Julio Jones, Javier Arenas, and many more have all shown their support, made donations, and offered a helping hand. I’ve seen many athletes tweet that they hate what has happened to Tuscaloosa because it is their home away from home. I can appreciate that because Tuscaloosa has done the same for me. Every year this town welcomes thousands of students with open arms.
Coach Saban, basketball coach Anthony Grant, and the current Alabama Crimson Tide athletes have been putting in work all over Tuscaloosa County. Coach Saban’s charity "Nick’s Kids" and Coach Grant’s "Sweet Home Fund" are both raising money for those affected by the recent tornadoes. I find it really respectable that these athletic teams have shown so much support and compassion. They aren’t paid to help, but they want to. I take pride in the fact that they want to help rebuild, and didn’t just pack up and leave for the summer.
It is no secret that Tuscaloosa is one of the most sports obsessed cities in America. Many will say the University is why Tuscaloosa had the more media coverage than any other city in Alabama. It makes a good story I suppose. Football isn’t just a sport here; it’s a way of life. The players are celebrities. That’s why I feel it is important for these famous faces to show they care.
A friend of mine is helping me put together an event we are going to call “Barbequing with the NFL Pros” in July to raise money for the victims of the April 27 tornado. We think people would love to have their favorite Alabama alum serve them barbeque, cold drinks, and maybe some motivation. We wanted to put this event together because we heard that a lot of the graduates want to help, they just weren’t sure how. I think this would give many of the athletes a chance to show Alabama that they care and have not forgotten Tuscaloosa.
I really can’t say enough about the support the University of Alabama and its athletic teams have shown Tuscaloosa in her time of need. The University was not affected, most of the athletes made it out scotch free. They could have easily gone about their business, but they were there to help. Just an encouraging word, or a helping hand means so much more than a donation. People like to see that the athletes they so adamantly support also support them. We are a team, not just on Saturdays.
If you would like to donate to “Nick’s Kids” please visit nickskidsfund.com.
May 20, 2011
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:
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
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 http://www.humanesocietyofwa.org 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 CNN.com/Robin and click on the "Impact Your World" icon.
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