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Rebuilding Tuscaloosa, One Day at a Time

by Kate Enos

In April, more than 40 tornadoes tore through Alabama. The deadly storms killed more than 200, destroying buildings and homes along its path. Tuscaloosa was the epicenter of a deadly EF-4 tornado which killed more than 40 people.

Just 12 short hours after the tornado touched ground, an AmeriCorps NCCC team was deployed. Now, in Alabama, AmeriCorps is 125 members strong, and growing.

These young people are removing debris, running call centers, overseeing donation management and distribution, assessing needs of homeowners, and managing a large outpouring of volunteers who have come to help.

Although members will shift in-and-out of their mission assignments in Alabama, AmeriCorps will be there until the work is done and after the cameras have left. Volunteers are using lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina, where:

  • More than 105,000 national service participants,
  • Gave 10 million hours of service
  • helping build or repair 12,500 homes on the Gulf Coast
  • manage 600,000 volunteers, and
  • serve 3 million citizens.

A Day in the Life: The Volunteer Story

AmeriCorps members and national service participants are committed to providing long-term support to communities afflicted by the unprecedented series of disasters this spring. Here are a few of their stories:

  • Griffith Ryan-Roberts of Sacramento, CA is a team leader of an AmeriCorps NCCC and has been overseeing volunteer management and donations at the Temporary Emergency Services Warehouse Mass Distribution Center.

There, he helps manage 30 AmeriCorps members and many volunteers who are assigned to sift and sort donations. The constant stream of donations has made for busy days for the AmeriCorps members, who work 10-12 hours a day, six days a week. To date, his team and countless volunteers have collected and sorted more than 26,000 lbs. of clothes and 19,000 lbs. of food for victims of the April 27 tornadoes.

  • Barry Clark, a second year AmeriCorps NCCC member from Edgewood, MD has been in the field, clearing debris and completing demolition work. Clark came straight from one disaster to the next, helping out the town of Griffin, GA, which was also hit by tornadoes in late April. “The magnitude of damage nowhere compares to what I see in Alabama”.

Clark has been mostly based out of Cullman, Hanceville, and outside of Birmingham -- areas which didn't receive as much attention as Tuscaloosa. Three members of his team are chainsaw-certified and have been removing mangled trees that obstruct the property and cleanup efforts. The AmeriCorps members also clean any debris that can be done by hand and leave the rest to the bulldozers.

  • Constantino Rago, a 25 year-old Connecticut native and team leader of an AmeriCorps NCCC team, helps oversee the operations and logistics at the TES 15th Street Warehouse, where victims go to receive essentials like clothes and food that have been donated. Rago is no stranger to disaster relief, as he worked in Haiti as a translator when the earthquake hit, helping a medical team communicate with victims through French and Haitian Creole.

Since arriving there, AmeriCorps members at the 15th Street Warehouse have worked more than 5,508 hours, overseeing volunteers who have worked more than 29,230 hours. AmeriCorps members and volunteers have served more than 3,256 individuals who have been affected by the tornadoes.

  • Christopher Buibrago and Bob Milner traveled all the way to Alabama from Washington State as part of the disaster relief teams with the Washington Conservation Corps. The two are a seasoned pair, with Biubrago working in Yazoo, MS after a tornado hit in 2010; Milner has been with the WCC since 1995 and oversees the disaster response team for the WCC.

As soon as they arrived on May 26, they hit the ground and started to removing debris. The ten WCC members in Hackleburg were some of the only boots on the ground, helping the small town of 1,500 get back on its feet. The AmeriCorps teams managed 440 volunteers, who worked nearly 2,800 hours. The AmeriCorps team also completed more than 200 home and site assessments and cleaned up 98% of debris that could be done by hand.

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