The winds of change
by Jennifer Cohron
Apr 21, 2013 | 1135 views | 0 0 comments | 26 26 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Jennifer Cohron
Jennifer Cohron
This week marks two years that a series of deadly tornadoes changed the course of lives and communities. Yet all these months later, some things seem surprisingly the same.

In my hometown, only now are we beginning to see progress on such fronts as downtown demolition and construction of a grocery store.

That may lead some people to believe that local leaders are to blame for the delay. Having witnessed some of the behind the scenes action of the recovery process for myself, I must congratulate the past and current administration for getting Cordova as far along as they have.

As time goes by, it’s easy to overlook the scope of the disaster.

State emergency officials identified 62 tornadoes that touched down that day. Damage stretched for almost 700 miles across 42 counties. Sixty-five percent of Alabama was affected.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency determined that 6,327 houses and 1,275 mobile homes were destroyed.

Approximately 250 people lost their lives and 2,200 were injured in the storms.

As devastating as April 27, 2011 was for the families in this area, it didn’t just happen to us.

Earlier this year, I took a road trip across north Alabama with Amelia Trowbridge, the local AmeriCorps VISTA team leader.

I am thankful for that opportunity to set my feet on the ground in communities such as Phil Campbell and Hackleburg. As a resident of a tornado town, the sights and stories were eerily familiar to me.

Because of that trip, I can assure my friends and neighbors that we are not the only people still looking at dilapidated buildings, just breaking ground on vital projects and waiting on further funding to be handed down so we can start on more.

FEMA isn’t in the habit of writing blank checks. Though the need is great, the money available for disaster recovery is limited.

Sometimes we get so wrapped up in why we haven’t gotten exactly what we’ve asked for that we forget it might mean another hard-hit area just like ours gets short-changed.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with asking for or accepting help.

In the immediate aftermath, tornado survivors who had lost practically everything repeatedly told case workers, “Go help my neighbors. They need it more than I do.” Some refused even a bottle of water.

But once a sense of normalcy resumed and we all retreated to our own homes, it became easier for those of us who were more fortunate than most to make mountains out of our molehills.

Suddenly, we weren’t all in this together anymore. We had our own problems, and they were always somebody else’s fault.

I am certainly not above this kind of behavior. I will admit to at times being numbered among the CAVE people — Citizens Against Virtually Everything.

However, I find it very hard to be selfish when I think about the people who have served on long-term recovery committees at the county and city level for two difficult years. They haven’t received a dime but have paid a price in terms of their time and even their health.

I also stand in awe of the thousands of volunteers who have come so far for so long to help strangers.

I asked to spend a day with the Green Shirts and Mennonites this week because they won’t be coming back after this summer. Amazingly, we have run out of jobs for them.

I wish I could describe the sweet spirit that surrounds these people who feel so blessed to be a blessing to others.

One couple has been on 19 mission trips with World Renew, otherwise known as the Green Shirts. An item on the husband’s bucket list was to complete 365 days of service over a span of several years.

Another couple told me they retired and “did the Florida thing” for a while, but it bored them to tears. Now their own children joke about needing an appointment to see them because they spend so much of their time working through World Renew.

I wonder if a tornado or some other natural disaster were to hit any of their homes if we would be so willing to run to their rescue.

I hope so. The winds of change are always blowing somewhere. The only way to withstand the storm is side by side.