05/05/2011 09:01 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Alabama Tornado Disaster Leaves Thousands Without Homes In Birmingham, Tuscaloosa

While government officials organize relief, the long interim between planning and getting things done has left Alabama's victims of the storms uncertain about their futures.

On Tuesday, NPR reported that federal, state, and local officials formed a task force to set up an emergency housing plan.

In response to the region's desperate need for shelter, the Federal Emergency Management Agency approved $13.6 million in grants and loans to help build, fix and support housing projects. So far, over $3 million of the total amount has been given specifically to Alabamians, reports The Birmingham News.

Since no official estimate has been set regarding the damage, it isn't known whether FEMA's millions will be enough, but more money may be on its way. U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt told The Birmingham News that a special fund may be set up once a hard figure of the area's financial need is determined:

"FEMA right now is trying to establish what the damage is and the cost estimates and once we get that and what the housing problem is long term, we'll be better able to know whether we need a supplemental."

Also, The Times Daily reports that mobile homes will be made available, however FEMA can't promise when they will arrive.

Meanwhile, the displaced residents of Alabama are struggling to cope.

'I have no idea where home is, anymore'

In Birmingham, hundreds of victims have exhausted available shelters. Kendra Coleman, a Pratt City resident left homeless after the storm, told the Los Angeles Times that FEMA was doling out appointments to hand out relief but immediate help wasn't coming soon enough.

"I said, 'That's fine, but what am I supposed to do until then?' I need beds. I need water."

The uncertainty affects her two small children as well. She says:

"They tell me, 'Momma, I wanna go home,' and I just want to cry, because I have no idea where home is anymore."

Few of Birmingham's affected families know where their homes are or plan to be, as city officials are using this time as an opportunity to restructure Birmingham's layout, reports the Wall Street Journal.

William Bell, the city's mayor, said the disaster has a silver lining, as it gives the area an "opportunity to expand" through city reorganizing. He said:

"This will give us an opportunity to restructure this entire area and make it a magnet for growth."

However, local victims are eager to rebuild their lives. Michael Howell-Moroney, a specialist in urban planning at the University of Alabama-Birmingham, said the dichotomy of interests is causing frustration. He told the WSJ:

"On the one hand, someone wants to do a grand planning process where there's a new build-out for the city, and on the other hand, you have individual citizens saying, 'Hey, I want to rebuild my house.'"

Tuscaloosa Mayor Walter Maddox agrees that some planning has to take place, but he told the Los Angeles Times the "humanitarian crisis" that may unfold due to the area's homelessness also must be addressed.

"I don't think any of us would like to see substandard housing built in our areas. But then, how do you tell someone you're not going to be able to have a home?"

'There were people everywhere'

Tuscaloosa is one of the most damaged areas in Alabama, and the amount of people displaced is straining available relief. Mayor Maddox says that, using "rough math," there are thousands homeless in his city alone, reports NPR.

Looking at the state of local relief shelters, the estimate is not surprising. Brad Fischer, a spokesman for the DCH Regional Medical Center, told the AFP that so many people needed shelter that they ran out of space.

"People came (as if) from a jungle, walking in the darkness over the ruins... There were people everywhere, in the conference rooms, corridors, cafeteria."

Storm victims Sean Smith and his wife are among those "walking in the darkness," waiting to find out what FEMA assistance they qualify for. He told NPR that the constant instability left them physically and emotionally exhausted.

"You know, sometimes I just want to break down and cry, but I can't because I have to be strong for her," he said. "And this is going on almost a week now. I'm just frustrated and tired."

The AP reported on one shelter, operating out of a Tuscaloosa recreation center, that is nearing full capacity. Although tornado victims are safe inside, neighborhood cleanup actions have barely begun and a recent increase in looting caused local officials to enforce a curfew.


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