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So it goes.


Well, kids, it looks like we're entering the real recovery phase now.  Roads are open, lots are being cleared, the curfew has been lifted.  We're settling in for the long haul.

And "long" is an understatement.  What it took a tornado a matter of minutes to destroy is going to take years to rebuild.  Over 7,000 homes were affected by the storm, according to the American Red Cross.  Of those, over 2,000 were completely destroyed.  It bears repeating that the hardest-hit areas were also some of the lowest-income areas of town.  That makes a bad situation worse, in a lot of ways.

But we're still here.  We're doing what needs doing.  The town is, for the most part, up and running.  That's pretty effing awesome, I think.  Tuscaloosa will be okay.
 
As for this journal, I think it's time to let it go back into hibernation.  I dusted it off primarily to keep displaced LJ users informed about the immediate aftermath of the tornado, and the need for that has pretty much passed.  Seeing as I return to my usual two-job work schedule tomorrow, it's going to be really hard for me to gather information regarding the actual recovery effort, and even harder to find the time to post regularly.  The journal just wouldn't be much of a resource from this point on.
 
If you would like to stay informed about how Tuscaloosa is doing, The Tuscaloosa News website (www.tuscaloosanews.com) is a great resource.  Also, you can follow @tuscaloosacity on Twitter.
 
I'd like to thank everyone who has donated to the tornado recovery effort here in Tuscaloosa and all across the American South.  It has been incredible to see the unstinting compassion and generosity that people from around the country and around the world have displayed during all this and those of us affected by the disaster are so, so grateful for all the help.  I particularly want to thank all the LiveJournal users who have come together to hold auctions and other fundraising events...you guys are awesome, and my cup runneth over.
 
Everybody stay safe, stay happy, stay cool.  :o)
 
 

Emergency food stamp information.


Tuscaloosa peeps:  DHR is taking applications for emergency food stamps at Coleman Coliseum until Sunday.  I saw on Tuscaloosa City's Twitter that they were using an alphabetical schedule...this is no longer the case.  It doesn't matter who shows up when, they will take your application.  You will need either an ID with your current address on it or a bill in your name with your current address on it.  You enter the coliseum and an escort (of which there are plenty) will direct you where to go.  There are a TON of DHR people there...there is hardly any wait time.  Once seated with a DHR rep, you will be asked a very short series of questions.  

Were you living in Tuscaloosa County as of April 27?  Was your property damaged?  Did you lose food due to a power outage?  Did you have to spend money out of pocket that you WILL NOT be getting back from homeowner's insurance?  What's the TAKE-HOME income of each person in the household, and will you be getting paid in the month of May?  Was anyone's income delayed due to the disaster?  What bills do you have coming due between now and the end of the month?  How much cash do you have on hand, and how much do you have in any checking or savings accounts right now?  (I'm forgetting a few questions here, but they were all short and simple to answer, and you DO NOT have to provide documentation.  Your best guess is good enough.)

They look at your take-home pay and deduct anything you'll be having to pay between now and May 27.  What's left is pretty much considered your income.  Unless you're bringing home $3000 a month, you're going to qualify for *something*.  My household of two (both employed adults) qualified for a little over $300.

I was in and out in about fifteen minutes, and all the DHR people were super nice and super helpful.  Also, FEMA had a table set up at Coleman, so you can apply for that while you're there. 

 ETA:  If approved for emergency food stamps, you will be issued an EBT card and PIN.  The funds will not be loaded onto the card for 3-5 days, since the applications must be processed in Montgomery.  You'll be given a 1-800 number to call each day to check and see if your card has been loaded.

ETA 2:  I previously stated in this entry that DHR "will find a way to qualify you".  It's been pointed out to me that this statement is misleading.  I've made it sound like DHR will help you no matter what your individual situation is.  THIS IS NOT THE CASE.  There are guidelines, and DHR must adhere to them in determining who is eligible for help.  Your income, resources, county of residence...these things ARE taken into account and I've made it sound like they're not.  I have removed the misleading statement from the main body of the post, and I apologize for any confusion I may have caused.  I have also edited the list of questions asked by DHR to include "Were you living in Tuscaloosa County as of April 27?"  I've been told that people are showing up at Coleman trying to get aid by saying they lived here at the time of the disaster when they didn't, or by including people in their household who were not residents at the time to up the amount of aid they receive.

The more things change...


Have you ever asked directions from an older person and been exasperated when they said something like, "You go down yonder and take a left down there by where the old courthouse was, 'fore they tore it down"?

Yeah.  I'm that person now.  I have no idea how to give anyone directions to anything in this town anymore.  Half the things I used as landmarks aren't there anymore.  I don't know how to get someone from Wal-Mart to Northport without mentioning Hobby Lobby.  I'm going to be that person telling people to turn right by where Big Lots USED to be.

Then again...the building that up until April 27 housed Big Lots and Hobby Lobby actually WAS a Wal-Mart back in the day.  I was really young then, and mostly I remember that my aunt worked there and they had a big coin-operated horse out front that I loved.  Stuff changes.  Regularly.  Landmarks go away and new ones take their place all the time.  We adjust.  We cope.

I still miss Krispy Kreme, though.

We're down to five people missing in Tuscaloosa, last I heard.  Curfews are still in effect for the worst areas, but they're later now...10 pm to 6 am.  FEMA has already paid out over $12 million to residents, the out-of-state rescue teams are going home.  There are fewer than 100 people in Tuscaloosa County without power.

One thing that made me smile is that even though over 5,000 structures were seriously damaged or destroyed by the tornado, we have less than 300 people in shelters here.  Why?  Most of the displaced residents went to stay with friends, family, or neighbors whose homes were undamaged.  That gives me a lot of hope, that so many of us here have people who care enough to take us in.  You folks that live elsewhere have given us an overwhelming amount of help and support, but I know y'all can't just keep giving forever...I'm glad to have proof positive that when the outside help stops, we can take care of us.

And for those of you who have donated to the cause, I want you to know that the money has gone where it was needed and is doing good things.  One of my mom's coworkers lives in Alberta and her family has eaten hot meals because of the help you've given.  I have patients in Holt that are wearing clothes you provided.  We've got some folks running scams and that's unfortunate but, on the whole, the people who need help are getting it because YOU stepped up and gave.  Thank you from all of us.
 
My boyfriend is here this week.  He lives in Hueytown and got his first in-person look at the damage Saturday.  He was speechless.  It was hard to see it all through someone else's eyes.  We agreed that Tuscaloosa is just never going to be the same after this.
 
But then...now we know what we're made of.  We've discovered, through this, just how strong we really are and just how much we care about each other, and how much people from all over the country care.  We won't ever be the same.  We might actually be *better*.

Day nine.


 We're down to seven missing people in Tuscaloosa.  I hope they're found soon.  The death toll is 41 thus far.

I want to give a big shout-out to DJ Greg Thomas at B101.7, the local radio station.  At the time the tornado entered Tuscaloosa, nearly everyone lost power.  We were all depending on radio to keep track of what was going on.  The station, however, had lost their primary AND secondary communications links.  Greg Thomas thought quickly.  His iPhone was still working, so he accessed James Spann's UStream on that and sat holding it up to the studio mic so that we could still hear what was happening.  It worked brilliantly and I know that he saved lives that day by being quick on his feet.  People in their cars driving home from work may not have known to take shelter had he not come up with such a great solution.  Tuscaloosa owes him a big thank you.

As for how Tuscaloosa is doing on day nine...well, it's odd.  I think we may actually be experiencing city-wide PTSD.  Everyone just seems really nervous and jumpy.  It's like the whole town is holding its collective breath, waiting for the other shoe to drop.  We're still out there cleaning up and helping one another, but we're terribly tense.  Hopefully, we'll all find a way to center ourselves over the weekend.

As for me, I'm just tired.  I've been running on fumes all week and I need to take a break.  So for this weekend, I am Scarlett...I will think about it all another day.  I'm going to stick close to home, take many baths and read Discworld novels until I feel like I can go out there again without having a total nervous breakdown.
 
I'll be back Monday.  You are all under orders to have a great weekend!

It's been a week.


Seven days ago, a large tornado wiped out half of my hometown.  

I have traveled down University Boulevard in Alberta nearly every day for over 30 years.  When I drove down that street the day after the tornado, I got about halfway down and had to stop...I couldn't tell where I was.  On a street I know THAT well.  That is how total the destruction is.  There are no landmarks left, nothing familiar.  Just piles of rubble that used to be stores and homes that were built before I was born.

I cannot describe to you the feeling that overcame me then.  To be in your own home and yet recognize NOTHING around you...it was terrifying and heart-breaking and it was one of those moments that seems like it *just shouldn't be possible*.

And the PEOPLE.  People who lived there were just wandering the streets.  Wandering and crying, mostly.  Just walking from one pile of rubble to the next and telling each other, "My house was RIGHT HERE yesterday."
 
There are forty people dead.  Forty people who were here, RIGHT HERE, last Wednesday.  Now they're gone.  I can only imagine how many people are having to relearn how to navigate the world in their absence.
 
And the worst of it is, there's no one to blame.  No one is at fault.  No one caused this through malice or carelessness.  This was a tornado.  This was just WEATHER.  It didn't have an agenda or a motive and we can't demand justice for what it's done.  ALL we can do is learn to accept our losses and start again.
 
One brick and one tree branch at a time, we're digging ourselves out.  The major roads have been mostly cleared.  Most of us have power again.  Businesses have reopened, people who've lost everything are already getting busy on rebuilding their lives.  SEVEN DAYS, and this much already done?  This, too, seems like it just shouldn't be possible.
 
Of course, it's not all hugs and goodwill.  We've had some looting.  There is a family from Alberta staying with me right now because while their home survived, they still don't have power.  They discovered today that someone broke into their house last night.    We've had some people take advantage of all the offers of free food and clothes.  I'm sure that in the coming weeks and months we'll hear stories of fraudulent FEMA and insurance claims.  There will always be a few people willing to milk a tragedy for whatever they can get out of it.  Well...so be it.  I'm not a religious or even particularly spiritual person, but I've been around long enough to know that what is gained unfairly is usually taken away down the road somehow, with interest.  And frankly, I'm too overwhelmed by the goodness and kindness I've seen this past week to work up much anger towards a handful of rotten apples.
 
I can't begin to count the number of people who have asked me if I'm okay and if I need anything.  What's happened here in Tuscaloosa and throughout the southeast is terrible, but it turns out that we are pretty good at this taking-care-of-each-other thing.  I find a lot of comfort in that.

THE NUMBER OF TUSCALOOSA MISSING HAS DROPPED TO 80.

Also, Comcast reports that 75% of people here have cable again and Alabama Power reports that only a little over 2000 people are still without power.

It's just amazing. 

Short update


 quizzicalsphinx has reported that power has been restored to her section of Alberta, which means she gets to go home!  HOORAY!

The boil water order has been cancelled.  The water throughout the city has been tested, and it is safe to drink without boiling.
 
There is still an 8 pm-6 am curfew in the worst areas...15th Street from McFarland Blvd going west and Alberta City.  I announced yesterday that University Mall and most of Midtown Village has resumed normal operating hours.  This was incorrect.  They are closing at 6 pm due to the curfew.

Mail pick-up spots have been announced, but I'm not clear on if they are going to be an every day thing or a once a week thing or what.  Today, people in the 35401 zip code were allowed to pick up their mail at Rosedale Court on 10th Avenue from 1 pm-6 pm, and those in the 35404 and 35405 zip codes were allowed to pick theirs up at the Five Points Winn Dixie at the same times.  I have no info currently on what the situation will be tomorrow.

People are getting fed and clothed, the folks in Rosedale were getting together to barbeque with donated charcoal.  Power is being restored to the devastated areas faster than I would have thought possible.  People are GOING  HOME.  It's just incredible.

Mayor Walt Maddox has given us a >$100 million estimate on the damage in Tuscaloosa.  There are still over 200 people missing.  The death toll is at 40.  It is going to be a long, grueling recovery.  But already, six days out, remarkable progress has been made.  I am so proud of my city.
 
Unfortunately, I'm also really starting to struggle with getting reliable information.  As people start to come out of shock, as debris gets cleared and it gets easier to move around town, we're starting to get a lot of rumors.  Seeing as I work two jobs, I can't get out enough myself to confirm what I'm hearing.  Rather than spread false information, I think it's better if I transition from information-gathering to discussing what it's like to be here during all this.
 
Right this minute, however, there are bills to be paid, so I'm gonna go do that.  

 Roads in Tuscaloosa are very congested due to all the traffic that would normally be on University Blvd E and 15th Street being rerouted.  McFarland Blvd was bumper to bumper at 4:30 PM.  359 was VERY backed up going south at 5:00 PM from the 35th Street exit all the way into Taylorville.  20/59 was clear and moving normally both directions EXCEPT FOR the McFarland Blvd exit, which was backed up.

Crescent Ridge Road is CLOSED.  Only residents with proper ID can get in and out.
 
I would expect these traffic conditions to continue for at least the rest of this week.  PLAN FOR THIS.  Leave for work early, and expect to be late getting home.  Again, considering the utter destruction of so much of the city, we are incredibly lucky to have any roads open at all.  BE PATIENT, DRIVE CAREFULLY.

Tuscaloosa County Schools will be OPEN for students tomorrow.  Holt Elementary has been moved to Lloyd Wood Middle School for the remainder 

Tuscaloosa City Schools will be closed tomorrow, but open Wednesday.  Please go here to find out where to report...lots of schools have been moved.

I don't have info on mail just yet, but garbage pick-up will resume next week with at least once-a-week service.  Those with a Monday/Thursday collection schedule will be collected EITHER Monday or Thursday.  Those on the Tuesday/Friday schedule will be serviced Tuesday or Friday.  Residents should leave carts at the curb if they aren't collected on a route because routes may run much later than usual or may not be collected until the second collection day in the week.  Bulky items, storm debris, yard waste and recycling will not be picked up this week.  Recycling services are SUSPENDED.

As for businesses, University Mall has resumed regular operating hours.  Almost all the businesses in Midtown Village reopened today.
 
If you or someone you know is disabled and affected by the tornado, call Beth Blaylock at 205-292-3167.
 
Local doctors have set up mobile clinics in Alberta, Rosedale and Holt to do clinic work like taking blood pressure and blood sugar levels.  THEY ARE  NOT SET UP TO PROVIDE EMERGENCY SERVICES.  Survivors with mental health needs can call the Belk Activity Center at 205-562-3200.  Those needing a medical needs shelter can call 205-333-1770.
 
Some mortgage companies allow people living in federal disaster areas to skip a mortgage payment.  Sometimes it is forgiven entirely, sometimes it is rolled over to the back of the loan, sometimes it will impact your credit score and sometimes it won't.  I encourage anyone with a mortgage that has been affected to call their mortgage company and ask what the policy is.  I can tell you that Wells Fargo seems to be at a loss as to what their policy is...they are sending me a packet of some sort, and supposedly after I fill it out and return it a determination will be made.
 
I have heard that some people are having issues with Comcast Cable.  Those who have lost their homes are trying to cancel their Comcast subscriptions and are being asked to return their cable boxes.  Cable boxes they don't have anymore.  Ya know, because of the BIG-ASS DAMN TORNADO THAT DEMOLISHED THEIR HOMES.  My guess is that this policy will change sometime in the next couple of days.  I am currently trying to get in touch with Comcast via Twitter to bring this problem to their attention AND I WILL RAISE ELEVENTY-ONE KINDS OF HELL IF THEY DON'T ACT RIGHT.
 
 

 

Early AM update


I am returning to both my jobs today, and I will be unable to update again until I get home around 5 pm.  I am going to try and get some more detailed information about the roads and whether or not anything in Midtown Village is open yet and will include that info in an early evening post.  If there's something in particular anyone would like to know, holler at me in the comments and I will try to find answers.

We've had a few more calls for donations:

Text FOOD to 27722 to donate $10 to the West Alabama Food Bank.

The Ramada Inn on Skyland is housing displaced people.  They need diapers, wipes, formula and bottles pretty badly.

The Tuscaloosa Metro Animal Shelter is getting slammed.  They need dog and cat food, newspaper, blankets, towels, and cat litter.  Take to the shelter by taking Joe Malisham Parkway to Martin Luther King Jr Blvd.  You WILL be able to cross 35th Street to get there.

We've had calls for more volunteers:

ANYWHERE IN ALABAMA, call 211 for information about how and where to volunteer.  Governor Bentley asks that people DO NOT just show up in affected areas...call and get assigned.

We need Spanish speaking volunteers in a bad way.  Call 205-248-5045.

Also, Canant Veterinary Hospital is offering to treat animals injured in the storm for free.  That's located at 1100 Rice Valley Road North, phone is 205-758-7295.  Note:  ONLY animals actually injured in the storm will be seen free of charge.