Sorry I haven't posted in a week guys, but I have been literally absorbed by the news coming out of my home state. I know that I am known for my humorous stories about my kids, but frankly, my kids have been awesome this week as I try to do what I can from Texas to help those in Alabama. They boxed up six boxes of their toys and books, they went through their clothes and shoes, and they have been incredibly well-behaved as I spend hours on the phone, on the computer, and at donation drop sites.
Over the past week, I have slept very little. I am consumed by a longing to be "home" in Alabama to help the recovery efforts there. The stories I have read and the images I have seen replay in my mind whenever I am still causing the tears to come and the heaviness of the situation fall over me and so I must keep moving. The rest of the country has moved on -- they do not understand what the people of Alabama and other parts of the South are dealing with. The death toll that rises and falls because as bodies are recovered, some must be reassembled. Literally entire towns were flattened -- houses and buildings reduced to piles of splinters and grotesque forms of twisted metal. Trees that were not snapped by the storm stand with broken branches and metal wrapped around them by the strong winds. The nation has stopped watching. But how could they know what is happening? The media has stopped reporting it anywhere outside of the effected areas. The single death of a truly evil man has eclipsed the deaths of hundreds of good people. I will do what I can to make sure that people do not forget.
A little over a week ago, my home state of Alabama was hit with the worst U.S. Natural Disaster since Hurricane Katrina. With very little warning, entire cites and towns were flattened -- more than 6,000 were left homeless, at least 250 people were killed, and 8 days after the storm, more than 400 people in the state have not been located. The power is still out for thousands and more than a million people did not have power for at least 6 days. The governor declared the state a disaster area. President Obama toured some areas of my wounded state and pledged help from FEMA and money to help rebuild. Those effected were grateful to hear that there would be help coming -- but meanwhile, efforts from friends, neighbors, complete strangers, and especially local churches were providing much needed help NOW. Within hours of the devastating damage to Tuscaloosa -- the town that is home to The University of Alabama -- a group of alumni and students from their biggest rival, also a state school, Auburn, had organized into a nationwide group of volunteers.
Toomer's for Tuscaloosa was named for the beloved oak trees that were poisoned by a deranged man who said that he had committed the evil act because he was an Alabama fan. The media had a field day with stories about how inner state rivalry had become a problem and the "level of hatred that these fans have for one another was escalating to the point that it was dangerous." Most Alabamians disagreed. We knew this was ONE deranged individual. The University of Alabama's students and alumni proved this by establishing "Tide for Toomer's" and collecting more than $50,000 to donate to efforts to save the beloved Toomer's Oaks. As soon as the storms hit Tuscaloosa, it was Auburn's turn to reciprocate. And have they ever.
As the weather continued to wreak havoc across the state, obliterating anything in its path, Toomer's for Tuscaloosa had already begun to mobilize. Over the coming hours and days as the group learned that other areas of the state had suffered damage and were in dire need of volunteers and supplies, they broadened their efforts. While based in a church in Northport, AL right outside of Tuscaloosa, the founders of this group utilized social networking to bypass the bureaucracy and red tape and just get things done. Period. When someone asked for help, it was given. No forms to fill out, no waiting, nothing to hinder their efforts to accomplish their simple goal -- to help. They located stranded individuals and got them to shelters, they sent people with chainsaws to cut trees, they passed out water and food like Christ's disciples with the loaves and fishes, and they got people they had never met to take supplies to other strangers in need with a few strokes on the keyboard and a click of the mouse. Anyone who tells you that Facebook is a waste of time hasn't seen what it can do in a situation like this. Before the first 24 hours had passed and the skies had cleared, Alabama natives and alumni from both universities were on the move. Donation drop-sites were established, money was collected, blood was given, and groups were mobilizing from all over to head to Alabama to deliver supplies, remove debris, make sandwiches or to just "be there" for the survivors. It is truly one of the most amazing things I have ever had the privilege to witness. A FEMA representative was quoted as saying "More has been accomplished in 6 days in Alabama than in 6 months in New Orleans [after Katrina]."
Alabama and Auburn are rivals, but it is a "sibling rivalry." It's the kind of rivalry that says "I can pick on my brother. I can call him names, make fun of him, and do whatever I want because he is my brother. But if YOU pick on my brother, I will kick your ass." Come September when the players take the field and the ball is snapped, we will go back to poking fun at one another. We will call each other names and tell Alabama /Auburn jokes. We will start making claims about how badly our team will beat their team in the Iron Bowl and claims for the National Championship will probably start about the middle of August. (The last 2 years Alabama and Auburn have won the National Championship and the Heisman). But hopefully, the memory of how "they" showed support for our beloved trees and how "we" all rallied to come together to help our neighbors regardless of their race, sex, religion, or football preference, will linger. It will seep into our subconscious that these people helped each other and others. They drove trucks hundreds of miles, ran chainsaws and heavy equipment, they dug through the rubble with shovels, picks and even their bare hands to look for survivors, recover memories, and retrieve the dead. And they hugged children, fed families, shared their homes, sent supplies, and rallied a nation to help in any way that they could. And we will remember April 27, 2011 as the day that brought us together to combat a humanitarian crisis -- as Alabamians, for Alabama and nothing else. Roll Tide and War Damn Eagle.