Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Tuscaloosa Tornado - Day 4 (Last Day)

Last full day in Tuscaloosa. We went back, once again, to Phillip's home to clean up and finish transplanting some trees and bushes from his grandparent's house in the backyard. Here's how it turned out:

I was so great to see it come together a bit at the end. It has been a blessing to meet all of Phil's family and the people of the First United Methodist Church. We've had such a great trip and worked hard (despite the many breaks). The weather has been great, but very hot. So we decided to celebrate on our last day by calling it quits after lunch and taking a trip out to the lake-house that Phil's aunt so graciously offered on Lake Tuscaloosa. I have no documentation, but I watched for 2 hours as Jonathan and Ryan swam to the opposite side of the lake for some cliff jumping. Pretty entertaining.

That night, we went to the original Dreamland BBQ to hang out with all of Phillip's family one last time. A great way to end the trip and fellowship with the team. Thanks for all of those who were praying for the trip, Phillip's family, and the city of Tuscaloosa.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Tuscaloosa Tornado - Day 3

Another work day at Phillip's house. Got the chain saws going and worked on removing some of the smaller branches that have fallen in the yard. In the afternoon, we worked on transplanting some great myrtle trees from Phil's grandparents house up the road. We got the trees out of the ground today, but only got one of them replanted. It was quite difficult to get them out of the ground and it was crazy hot again today. We went back to the church to chill and eat, then headed out into town after dinner. We walked around and enjoyed some of the unique and original sites of Tuscaloosa. We ended up going to some bars and meeting up with some guys Phil grew up with and knew in high school. It was interesting to hear their stories about the tornado and how they were all coping with it as college students at U of A. All in all, besdies some wack karaoke, not much happening in downtown Tuscaloosa on an early, somber, summer night.

Here are some pictures I took of Phil's grandparents house, just so you kinda get an idea of how their neighborhood was effected by the twister:

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Tuscaloosa Tornado - Day 2

First day to actually get to work and see first hand the damage done by the tornado. We went to Phillip's house and just went to town in the backyard tearing out trees that had fallen. Phillip lives in a part of the city known as Forest Lake. However, there are very few trees left standing. We worked in the backyard the entire day and made great progress despite having chain saws that only worked half the time and were stuck the other half. Thank goodness for Jonathan and his hatchet.

We were hoping to do some work on Phil's grandparent's home that is just a couple houses up the road. Unfortunately, FEMA declared it destroyed. Therefore, it will completely bulldozed and they will have to rebuild their home on the same lot. In fact, Phillip's mom Perry informed me that probably all the houses on their block, besides their own, will have to be bulldozed. The damage isn't widespread, but took a path straight through town. You can follow the line of the tornado very easily. The weirdest part is driving around; everything is normal. Then 50 feet later you are in an area that is completely leveled. At the end of the day, Perry showed me around town to the other neighborhoods that were effected by the tornado. Specifically, Alberta City and Holt. These areas were way worse then Phillip's neighborhood.

We got back to the church and showered up and then had dinner. Some volunteers from First United Methodist served up a great Italian meal. We all ate a bit too much. Soon after we crashed from being a little too ambitious the first day in the 93-95 degree heat (record high). One of the coolest aspects of the trip is having Dr. Troyer and Kulaga there. It is truly a unique experience have people in such high positions at a University caring so much about their students. Dr. Troyer is the man on the chainsaw. I think we are all going to be feeling it tomorrow.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Tuscaloosa Tornado - Day 1

Hey everyone, I know it has been a while. But a few weeks removed of college and student teaching, I believe it is time to start up the ole' blog again. No better way to start then reflecting on the past week and my trip to Tuscaloosa to help a good friend (Phillip) and his wonderful family. The next couple posts will be in a journal format, each representing the days of the trip.

DAY 1:

First night in T-town. Got to the church and met all the fine folks of First United Methodist. Including Josh Davis, who's on staff and has been so hospitable to us Kentucky folk. The team that came down form Asbury includes: Jacob Clevinger, Jonathan Rehner, Ryan Stoltzfus, Jenelle McClean, Janah (not to be confused with Janay) James, Paul Niswander, Ben Andrews, Randy Troyer, Dr. Troyer, Dr. Kulaga, and myself. We were joined by one of Paul's friend Carlton and his brother who is a student at the University of Alabama. We settled in the awesome youth room, but we couldn't do much on the first night because it was nearly dark when we arrived. We decided to ride around to make a brief assessment of the damage. Afterwords, we ran over to Holy Spirit (Phillip's school growing up) to drop off some supplies that we had picked up before heading down. Earlier in the evening we ate at Mug Shots, downtown. Two thumbs up; awesome burgers.

The supply shelter set up at Holy Spirit is mainly for the Hispanic community that is near by. That specific section of town was devastated by the tornado. By devastated, I mean piles of debris are all that remain of what used to be mobile homes and houses. It would remind you of driving into a junk yard. In some places, where there used to be houses, there are just holes in the ground. The lives and stories of some of the Hispanic folks at the shelter were amazing and troubling. I wasn't able to communicate with them for the obvious reasons, but this is what I was able to take from the conversations that occurred:
  1. The big problem happening in the community is the need for medical care.
  2. In a good amount of the homes, which were mainly trailers, the residences who survived the tornado are illegal immigrants.
  3. Because they are illegal immigrants they are refusing medical care regardless of their condition. This is due to their concerns with being deported or revealing someone else that is not supposed to there.

Phillip and his Dad were trying to convince them that they needed the medical care and that the doctors wouldn't ask any questions or to see identification. However, it seems they did not gain much ground with them. These people want nothing to do with anyone, especially Caucasian doctors, that could jeopardize their situation or that of a family member. The saddest part of all of this is not only that they refuse treatment or to go to a hospital, but they also won't claim their dead because of the same fears. Unfortunately, it seems that most deaths caused by the tornado happened in this section of town.

During these conversations, we ran into an older fella named Sebastian. His story is heartbreaking and was a good reminder of how blessed we all are. Sebastian's trailer was destroyed by the tornado and he miraculously survived. He got out of his home and went next door to check on his sister and two nieces. He found them dead in their home, but he pulled them out onto the side of the street where they were soon picked up by emergency personnel making their rounds through the damaged areas of town. Since those moments, right after the tornado passed through, he has been looking for their bodies. However, they are no where to be found. A week and a half before, Paul met Sebastian a day after the storm on a bus in the same predicament. It has been two weeks at this point and he still has no idea where they are. For now, he just hangs out at the supply shelter because he literally has no where else to go for the time being. Depressing end to day one.