The storms of April 27 will largely be remembered for their fury and the loss of lifes and property that accompanied the historic severe weather event.
But along with the destruction, the aftermath of the storms will also be recounted in a positive way in St. Clair County due to the spirit of cooperation, teamwork and service that turned a difficult situation into a much more manageable and hopeful one for citizens in the county who were affected in large and small ways.
Within hours of the storm’s impact, shelters, points of distribution for supplies, volunteer centers and aid stations were set up across the county to help meet the immediate needs of those who lost their homes and loved ones.
These locations included the former 84 Lumber building in Pell City, Ashville Middle School, the Covered Bridge Timber Company, Bethany Missionary Baptist Church, Hardins Chapel Bible Church in Ragland, the First Baptist Church and Park Avenue Baptist Church in Moody, as well as the Greensport Baptist Church and the Shoal Creek Community Center in the hardest-hit area of the county.
Numerous drop-off sites were established, and the citizens of St. Clair County and outside the county were very quick to volunteer both items and labor.
The donation distribution efforts went very smoothly, as it was emphasized early that people in the county who were affected by the storms would be in need of food items, toiletries and financial assistance more than items such as clothing. In the wake of the storm, many individuals played an active role in distributing food and supplies across the county.
At the Shoal Creek Community Center, Stacey Kelley said the process of serving people had been rewarding and reassuring.
“Considering that no one expected a storm of this magnitude to come through here, the amount of volunteers and help has been overwhelming,” she said. “People have been willing to volunteer and the amount of people wanting to do that has been amazing. Everyone has stepped up in the county and the county and the EMA and everyone has worked so well together. People know that it could have been their house that was destroyed or damaged. We have had a handful of people or more every day willing to work at the center and sometimes we have had too many people and we have found them something else to do. The willingness of people to help has been reassuring and although mankind fails at times, people will still help each other in a time of need.”
Boot Rich, who is a member of Hardins Chapel Bible Church, said the effort at that site was greatly enhanced by the number of people willing to serve in a variety of different roles.
“We had enough people every day to come in and cook and wrap the food and also to carry the food over to places such as Shoal Creek Valley,” said Rich, who noted that the effort was mainly coordinated by the three-person team of Joan Ford, J.R. Gentry and Roy Bliss. “We have people at the church to give the food away to the people who come to eat. We have had people come and help us sort clothes and we had a group from Colorado come to help us witness and to give out Bibles.”
The same teamwork was exhibited at other sites across St. Clair County.
Kristin Simpson, who served at the Covered Bridge Timber Company, said the amount of teamwork that has helped that site operate smoothly and efficiently has been amazing.
“The workers have done their absolute best to get the word out, and to help the residents rebuild or restock their homes,” said Simpson. “It took a while at first because people (who were affected by the storms) weren’t able or ready to get out. Now we are beginning to see more people and not just the same people. It has been amazing the number of people who have come together for this and the fingerprints of God are all over this.”
Barry Vickerson was a near-constant and active presence at the St. Clair County EMA staging area at the former 84 Lumber site, and Vickerson said he was very impressed by the number of people who volunteered to help there and how organized that site’s effort was. The Seventh Day Adventist Disaster Response Team organized the store of the staging site.
The St. Clair EMA requested the National Guard to oversee the staging area, particularly the FEMA supplies that were received, such as water, ice, MREs (ready-to-eat meals) and tarps.
“I thought (the effort) all went really good,” Vickerson said. “The volunteers showed up and I know that one day we had three churches show up to help. I met a lot of nice people and saw a lot of good people.”
In addition to centers where people could get a warm and healthy meal, or pick up other supplies, centers were set up where citizens could apply for assistance from FEMA in Shoal Creek and Moody, and numbers were also set up where those who were still distraught or overwhelmed by the effects of the storm could receive counseling from local pastors.
While normal, everyday citizens from inside and outside of St. Clair County emerged as valuable helpers in the aftermath of the storms, much credit must also be given to law enforcement and fire agencies from all over the county, who helped provide food, tarps and other items, and were a constant and comforting presence for those who needed assistance. This comfort and help also came from groups such as the St. Clair County Baptist Disaster Team.
St. Clair County Property Manager Harold Hoyle termed the overall effort by various groups and people inside and outside of the county as “staggering.”
“Being in the middle of (much of the recovery efforts) at Ashville Middle School and at the (former) Liberty Building Company (in Ashville and at the Shoal Creek Community Center, it has been a tremendous grassroots response,” Hoyle said. “The people here did not simply wait for state entities such as the Red Cross or Salvation Army to come and help. They took up the reins and went to work and provided supplies and then other various entities such as the Red Cross did come in and help. But the immediate response from local citizens and volunteers were staggering in terms of items donated and the number of volunteers and the dedication of those volunteers.”