Tornadoes 2011: Strangers Across 6 States Help Victims Cope
After a weekend of devastation and tragedy, Southerners are beginning to piece their lives back together.
At least 44 people were killed in the severe weather that ripped across six southern states from Thursday to Saturday, reports the Associated Press. The National Weather Service is investigating 267 preliminary tornado reports, though the final total will be less, due to duplicate reports.
Residents of Oklahoma, Virginia, North Carolina, Alabama, Arkansas and Mississippi are now tasked with rebuilding their lives in the face of destroyed homes, businesses and schools, as well as the loss of friends, family and neighbors.
As with any tragedy, the silver lining is in the way communities and people throughout the country have come together to lend their support -- even when they themselves have suffered devastating losses. Amid damage assessments and cleanup efforts, residents and officials alike are looking to make repairs and start rebuilding what was lost. Below is a look at some of the ways people across the country are helping -- and what you can do to lend your support.
In North Carolina -- the hardest-hit state, with at least 21 deaths reported, almost 500 homes destroyed and more than 1,000 homes damaged -- residents of a Raleigh subdivision came together to support and provide food for each other.
A group of teens collected cans and boxes of food and carried them to residents of the Serendipity Drive subdivision. Dianna Waddington, who organized the volunteers, lives on Serendipity Drive and lost her home to the tornado, but told NBC-17 that she was more concerned about her neighbors. "It's the right thing to do," she said of the spontaneous food delivery.
In the same neighborhood, another resident set up grills on his lawn and cooked for neighbors who had lost their homes in the tornado.
In the small town of Tushka, Okla., an EF-3 (Enchanced Fujita) storm affected 237 homes, completely destroying 149 of them. According to KTEN, the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma is one of the many groups that leapt to the aid of Tushka, providing free meals and water, assistance with clearing drives and roadways, and support for other vital needs of the community.
When 2,700 people were left without electricity in the wake of the storm, the Choctaw Nation took to feeding Tushka's families and volunteers, serving more than 1,000 meals in the first 24 hours alone. Choctaw Nation employees have been grilling hamburgers and hot dogs, giving out about 1,200 each day and even delivering the meals to families when needed. The tribe has also donated supplies to the Red Cross, held a clothing drive, delivered pallets of water and given money to a local church to make sack meals for victims for the next several days.
In Washington County, Ala., county officials and the community have joined forces to support a Deer Park family struck by tragedy. Three members of the family -- mother Jean Box and children, Sheldon, 14, and Hunter, 11 were killed when a tornado picked up their mobile home and slammed it into a tree, according to Fox 10 News. The father, Greg, and daughter, Taylor, 17, survived.
Washington County Sheriff Richard Stringer wanted the sheriff's office to do what it could to help the Box family, so they set up an account at First Community Bank to pay for the funerals of the Box family members. Stringer told Fox 10 News, "I don't want the family to come out and have that burden on them when they're trying to recover."
Monetary donations to the account can be made at any First Community Bank branch. And bags of clothing, groceries, and other items have been and can be dropped off at the 911 Communications Building on Hearn Drive in Chatom or the sheriff's office in the court house.
In North Little Rock, Ark., the Rock Creek Disaster Relief Unit used chainsaws and their hands to clear out trees that had been toppled by severe storms -- just because they wanted to help out.
"Anytime there's a tornado [any]where in Arkansas we usually go and any time like this where there is damage we help as well," Rock Creek member Britt Reynolds told KTHV.
In the most recent batch of severe storms, a tree went through the living room of Lakeview Road resident Mark Perry, who was terrified but unharmed. When Perry returned the next morning, Rock Creek crews were already clearing the tree. Perry said that selfless aid like that from strangers was more than he could have asked for in his time of need.
"That's what makes you be able to get through days like today," he said.
In Gloucester, Va., community members are showing up at a local church in droves to donate something very valuable -- their time. By Monday afternoon, about 150 volunteers had registered: doctors, nurses, electricians and teachers, but mostly community members just wanting to help. People with large trucks, chainsaws and other useful equipment also volunteered to help clear debris.
Community Emergency Response Team surveyors are busy figuring out which areas need the most volunteers.
In addition to all of the manpower, the Bellamy United Methodist Church in Gloucester, which has become the center for tornado relief for the area, has received large donations of water, food, toiletries, and clothing. Businesses including the Olive Garden, Chick-fil-A and Walmart have dropped off prepared food for storm victims and volunteers.
For more information, you can call 804-693-1390.
In Leakesville, Miss., a mobile nonprofit called Overflow International is not only helping care for tornado victims -- it's helping inspire them. According to Fox 10 News, Overflow International -- an amalgamation of several local churches that was founded in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina -- volunteers hop in their vehicles and go where needed to offer emergency victims food, prayers, tree-cutting and anything else.
"It's a blessing, it really touches your heart when you have volunteers that come up from other areas... that come together in a time of tragedy," Leakesville resident Willie Burley told Fox.
Other Ways To Help
The American Red Cross is providing relief to people in the states affected by the deadly tornadoes. Over the weekend, it sheltered more than 500 people, served meals in affected neighborhoods and gave personal hygiene items and supplies to those in need. Red Cross disaster mental health workers are also helping people who have lost loved ones and their homes cope with the aftermath.
To make a donation to American Red Cross Disaster Relief, give online, call 1-800-RED-CROSS or text the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation. Contributions may also be sent to your local American Red Cross chapter or to the American Red Cross, P.O. Box 37243, Washington, DC 20013.
The Salvation Army's disaster response crews and mobile feeding units have also been on-scene at shelters throughout the affected states, serving meals and offering emotional and spiritual care. The Salvation Army asks people who want to help those affected by the tornadoes and severe weather to donate online or call 1-800-SAL-ARMY. Monetary donations will be used to meet immediate needs of those impacted. You can also check out their other ways to give.