“We’re a very compassionate, caring and loving state. We’re going to give back and help those people because those people came and helped us,” Denise Rucker, chairperson of the LTRC said. “It’s a very sad, tragic thing that happened.”
Les Hontz, Rucker’s co-chair, said that events like this bring back terrible memories.
“When they tell the stories about the teachers hanging over the kids and the concrete walls collapsing … my heart goes out to everyone in Oklahoma,” he said.
Rucker says she hopes that when the schools are rebuilt Moore will consider building safe rooms. According to Rucker, the LTRC helped local fire departments secure some funding to build safe rooms in their headquarters, but they haven’t been added yet.
“Safe rooms cost a lot of money but if you save one life, it’s worth it,” she said. “It’s a very sad day when you lose a child like that.”
Since 1971 the government has been assisting in long term recovery for communities that have been impacted by presidentially declared disasters. After 2011, Alabamians know what people in Moore are going through all too well.
When Gov. Robert Bentley signed Executive Order No. 18 in the 2011 storms’ wake, it placed the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs under the direction of his office for long-term recovery efforts.
Rocky Milliman, the Long Term Community Coordinator for ADECA, said Calhoun County did not request any federal assistance for recovery from the 2011 tornado. He said just because the county did not request federal aid, it doesn’t mean everyone who has been affected has been helped.
“A lot of people don’t realize that people who were affected by the 2011 storm are still recovering. There are still needs,” he says.
The purpose of the committee is to guarantee that everyone in Calhoun County affected by the storm has a safe home and their unmet needs are taken care of. The committee has met the majority of unmet needs which include food, shelter and clothing.
Chris Rodgers, a tornado survivor, can still see the small, sideways swirl making its way toward his back door. He remembers telling his children to stay in their bathtub, nestled under a mattress. Then, the house rolled forward. He threw himself on top of the mattress and blacked out. The tornado was on them.
Shards of the bathtub, the broken glass of his aquarium, and a tiny red rubber ball still lay across the road of where his house used to stand. The tornado took it all, and his ability to walk. He still dreams about scuba diving with whale sharks and hand cycling. Thanks to the actions of community groups like the Calhoun County Long Term Recovery Committee, he might just be able to.
“They were involved with so much stuff,” Rodgers says. “You know, getting people out in the community to donate food, clothes, whatever the case may be. Money, deodorant, toothpaste, toothbrushes. Whatever. It was there. If it wasn’t for the community and our church, we wouldn’t have what we have.”
In 2011 the volunteer response for the committee was great. In the first couple of days after the storm there were already 5,000 volunteers. But by the time 2012 rolled around most of the volunteers went away. The ones who stayed currently clean up yards and do debris removal around immediate homes and driveways.
Rucker says the worst thing about volunteering is having to deal with ungrateful people. She says some people file false claims to get help they don’t necessarily need.
“They want us to go in and plant trees and lay down grass and sod. Some even want us to go into their pastures and clean up. We’re not in the business of landscaping and going in and making it pretty,” she says.
Like Rucker, Rodgers also says some people took advantage of the relief efforts.
“They were there just with their hands out because there was no proof that they were in a situation,” he said.
Hontz, says the hardest part about volunteering is having to put his foot down.
“Sometimes you have to say no and that’s the hardest part, having to say no to somebody You just can’t do everything for everybody,” he says.
Hontz worked hands-on with other volunteers to build 13 houses from the ground up. He still remembers handing over the keys of the first house he helped rebuild to a family who lost everything.
“We dedicated the house and handed the family the keys. When you can hand somebody a set of keys and tell them, ‘Here’s your house, it’s fully furnished, stocked, here are the keys and you don’t owe anybody anything ...’ it was a very moving day that we did that. These people wouldn’t have gotten their houses rebuilt any other way,” he says.
Hontz was recently named president of the local Voluntary Organization Active in a Disaster, which also assists in recovery after disasters.
“Somebody once told me that everybody had their civic duties they owed and obligations. I actually retired so I could do something like this. I’d do it again in a heartbeat,” he said.
Staff writer Madasyn Czebiniak: On Twitter @Mczebiniak_Star.