Less than six months into his first year in office, District 5 Sen. Greg Reed had known a band of dangerous storms had passed through his represented area in the early morning areas and left damage in their wake. So with a prayer in his heart and status-check requests being relayed to emergency agencies back home, he turned his attention to the legislative business at hand.
The day’s level of destruction, however, was far from reaching its crescendo.
That afternoon, tornadoes formed and tore across the state leaving unprecedented devastation across Alabama. In District 5, tornadoes wrought destruction in the communities of Pleasant Grove, Sipsey, Argo and Reed’s own hometown of Cordova.
As word came on to the senate floor of the touchdown of the afternoon tornadoes, Reed said that he and several of his colleagues walked into the secretary of the senate’s office to watch live televised coverage of the event. Viewing the F4 “Tuscaloosa-Birmingham” tornado as it ravaged Pleasant Grove, he knew that a catastrophic event unencountered in state history had occurred.
“Watching the monitors, your heart and mind begins to race, but at the time I had no clue as to how serious the situation really was,” Reed said. “When someone mentioned Cordova, it had been like someone struck with a blow.”
Taking to the phone, Reed placed a call to his wife Mitsy at home in Jasper and received relieving news — his family, including his three sons, were safe and his property secured.
With the most basic and profound concern assured, Reed turned his thoughts and efforts to his district.
“I, along with several of my colleagues whose districts were affected, decided to stay in Montgomery to get a head start on emergency mobilization,” Reed said. “There are, in the event of a crisis, plans in place as to what course of action to take — but there had never been a disaster of this magnitude in recent history to use as a model. At the moment, all we could think about was helping the people we represented.”
The next morning, Reed and a contingent of his colleagues met state troopers for a tour of the affected areas — including the hard-hit areas of his own district.
Viewing the damage and speaking with survivors, Reed knew that a “serious and significant event had transpired” and was determined to get assistance as soon as possible.
In District 5, 19 people had lost their lives, hundreds were injured and thousands of homes were lost. Still new to the job, Reed was discovering the powers and limitations of his office, as well as the resources available to him.
Working in conjuction with state, local and federal aid agencies, he was able to get National Guard units to Sipsey, Cordova and Pleasant Grove to assist with emergency and recovery efforts, as well to protect the safety and well being of his constituents.
With electricity unavailable throughout the district, food, water and supplies were a top priority — and Reed was using every tool at his disposal to get the resources where they were needed. When obstacles and challenges arose, he found quick solutions for the problem, often simply by asking for assistance from both the public and private sector.
“People were more than willing to help in the time of need, they just needed leadership,” Reed said. “It touched me to see people coming together to aid others and you could really see the spirit of our state come through.”
Today, Reed calls the April 27 tornadoes and the recovery period that followed the “most defining event of my first term.”
In the years since the disaster, Reed has sponsored legislation based upon his experiences that have been signed into law — such as protection for utility works from threats while performing their duties and continued incentives for businesses that located to the state, but lost the facilities due to a disaster.
Above all, the event instilled a deeper sense of pride for Reed as he recalled the numerous acts of kindness and selflessness displayed by people throughout his district in the most desperate of circumstances.
“There was a driving force to help — people having been hurt physically or emotionally still went out to help tend to their neighbors. No one was a stranger. Everywhere you looked there was great care, as if everyone was family,” Reed said. “Even in some of the darkest moments such as those days, you find examples that make you even prouder to be the representative of such strong, giving and hard-working people.”