In April 2011, I arrived in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, to a scene of utter devastation after a series of tornadoes wreaked havoc across the state and the American Southeast.
It was hard to imagine what the city looked like before the storm swept through. But it was not hard to imagine what the people were like -- because their strength and caring were evident in how they responded.
I got the opportunity to meet Tracy and his wife, Tiffaney. Tracy was built like a football linebacker, while his wife was a petite woman with a big heart.
They talked about the day of the storm. Tiffaney had laughed when Tracy started running their three children through tornado safety exercises. She stopped laughing when they saw the huge tornado heading right toward them.
Caitlin Moore, 10, spends a moment with her mother, Tiffaney, outside their family's damaged home. (Photo: Laura Reinhardt/World Vision)
“All we could do was hold our ears because it was sucking, it was popping your ears,” said Tiffaney. “Stuff was flyin’ everywhere. And Tracy was saying, ‘Hold on, hold on. Y’all hold on.’
“What else can you do? What else can you say? You just pray that you survive it. And you make it out. [The kids] were just screaming.”
She continued: “You don’t know what to do. You can’t tell them it’s OK, because you don’t know it’s OK. But we were fortunate.”
After the storm passed, the sky returned a to a beautiful blue. It seemed as though nothing had happened -- but as they emerged from their shelter, what they saw and heard devastated them. Tiffaney said it seemed like every tree in the neighborhood now lay in the road.
Tracy said the cries for help they heard from their neighbors continued to haunt his dreams.
The family immediately sprang into action. “We ran up and down the street,” said Tiffaney. “I mean, all you could do was find out if everybody else was OK. That’s what we did. We went door to door.”
When I met the family, they were continuing to help, even though their home was so damaged that they had been forced to move into a home with Tiffaney’s mother and stepfather. Every day, they showed up to volunteer at a church in their former neighborhood.
The people in Tuscaloosa and all across Alabama soon faced another dilemma, because the disaster faded quickly from headlines. The tragedy competed for coverage with the news of Osama bin Laden’s death and the celebration of the royal wedding.
A child's stuffed animal lies amidst the wreckage caused by last year's tornadoes in Tuscaloosa. (Photo: Laura Reinhardt/World Vision)
“Just because it’s faded from the headlines, it’s not over,” said Phyllis Freeman, World Vision’s director of domestic disaster response. “Children and their families and communities will be rebuilding for decades.”
As residents of the Tuscaloosa area move forward and begin to rebuild, they need volunteers and donations to help -- now more than ever.
World Vision’s missions teams are organizing missions trips in October, November, and December to come alongside these towns as they continue their recovery.
“Just open your heart and feel what we feel as a need. Help us and support us -- because we are so, so in need,” said Tiffaney. “It doesn’t have to be anything big. The small things make us feel like you’re helping.”
Tiffaney shared her dream for the future of Holt, her community near Tuscaloosa. “I want to see things rebuilt. I want to see our community back to a community again,” she says.
“It doesn’t have homes. It doesn’t have businesses. It doesn’t have people walking the street with their dogs or kids riding their bicycles. That’s what I want.”
By volunteering for a mission trip, you can help be a part of making Tiffaney’s dream come true.
Read related post: Restoring houses and hearts in Nashville and nationwide
Want to be part of a similar experience that helps restore both lives and hearts -- either in Tuscaloosa or elsewhere in the United States? Check out the dates and locations of World Vision’s U.S. mission trips this year. The trip might only last a few days -- but the impact can last a lifetime.
You can also make a one-time gift to our U.S. Disaster Response Fund. Any donation will help World Vision respond quickly and effectively to life-threatening emergencies right here in the United States, like last year's deadly tornadoes in the Heartland and Southeast.