Disaster response in Tuscaloosa
A volunteer reviews the damage resulting from the deadly tornado.
By Jason Koenig, Captain
I arrived in Tuscaloosa, Ala., on Friday, May 13. On my first full day I toured the affected areas with other emergency disaster services (EDS) people. It was a lot to absorb. We came to areas that now look like junk and trash dump yards, yet in mid March were thriving neighborhoods.
As we drove through the Crescentridge area, we saw flipped-over cars, up-rooted full-size trees and the foundations of what used to be homes.
In the midst of the carnage stood a building that testified of God’s protection—a lone church, the only structure in the neighborhood to survive. It now serves as a beacon of hope. While the building experienced minor damage, it remains open, serving those who are now homeless.
In our travels we heard story after story of how thankful people are to God for their survival. Many shared their gratitude for the service The Salvation Army has been provided from the beginning. How sad we were to watch people kneeling where their homes once stood, sifting through the remains to find whatever they could of their personal belongings.
I am the operations chief with the primary responsibility of giving oversight to the canteen (mobile kitchens) operation. We have four units and four teams serving meals daily. This is an amazing ministry. With each meal and bottle of water we share the love of Christ. I understand that my role here is to support the teams. I spend my days driving through Tuscaloosa visiting each canteen site.
I have seen ministry in action, talked with people and heard how God protected them. I spoke with a sheriff’s deputy who said his house was hit—but is repairable—while his neighbors’ homes were completely demolished. That’s a miracle in itself, but he continued to describe the night.
As he saw the tornado approaching, he called his wife to get their baby son out of his room. She ran to the nursery, grabbed the baby and rushed back out. Moments later his crib flew out the window. If they had waited a few more moments their son would have still been in that crib.
Even though destruction and ruin is everywhere, the community exhibits a spirit of togetherness. Driving through, I see many families and groups setting up grills and cooking for anyone needing food. People have come together to help each other.
One of our canteens is located next to The Salvation Army’s shelter, which was destroyed—both the shelter and corps buildings were ruined. I heard that during the tornado 30 people were inside. The miracle is that no one got hurt, except for a scratch on one person.
Even with the destruction of the Army buildings, Army personnel continue to meet people’s needs. The Salvation Army isn’t a building; it is the people, who are a witness of Christ and provide hope.
Soon we will establish a distribution center that will provide limited financial assistance and in-kind goods. Please keep us in your prayers.