[Photos] Rebuilding Tuscaloosa

As I saw images from Moore, Oklahoma, flash across my screen in May, I was immediately brought back to similar scenes of devastation that took place in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, in 2011. I thought about how World Vision was just finishing up its disaster response to that deadly tornado, two years after it touched down.

When I arrived in Tuscaloosa, days after the tornado, I saw communities completely leveled. It was hard to imagine that they had once been neighborhoods.

As we celebrate our Independence Day today, we take a look at the resiliency of these Alabama communities -- places that truly represent the American spirit.

An aerial view of Tuscaloosa shows just how widespread the tornado damage was. (Photo: Laura Reinhardt/World Vision)

Many people I met had lost everything to the devastating winds -- yet they expressed an incredible faith in God and in the tenacity of their community.

Bonfilia Maldonado, 26, holds her daughter, Maria Guadalupe, 2, as she surveys the ruins of her family's home. (Photo: Laura Reinhardt/World Vision)


A hurting community goes back to school

Nearly four months after the tornado, I returned for a Day of Caring in a hard-hit community just outside of Tuscaloosa named Holt.

Dee's 2-year-old daughter, Savannah, took a liking to this flashlight. Regarding her hometown of Holt just on the outskirts of Tuscaloosa, Dee says, "The neighborhood is no more. Just gone." (Photo: Laura Reinhardt/World Vision)

Children gleefully picked out brand-new shoes, games and toys, books, hygiene kits, and a backpack filled with school supplies so they could start the school year fully prepared.

July 30 was the Day of Caring in Holt, Alabama, just outside of Tuscaloosa. The event was part of World Vision's recovery efforts following the April 2011 tornado that devastated much of the area. (Photo: Laura Reinhardt/World Vision)

World Vision disaster response team members also set up a teacher resource center at a local school, which had closed down because of storm damage. Teachers from storm-affected areas picked up free supplies to support them in their classrooms.

Teacher Heather Ingram received supplies for her classroom through World Vision's teacher resource center. (Photo: Jim Ewings/World Vision)

Access to these supplies offers much-needed support to parents still struggling to rebuild their lives. “Parents are able to spend that money on household supplies and even food,” teacher Heather Ingram said. “I am very grateful and fortunate to have this resource.”

A time to build

At that same time, World Vision was also moving into the rebuilding phase of our disaster response by providing building materials courtesy of corporate partners.

The high-quality building materials brought the Lodge family a sense of security for the future. (Photo: Laura Reinhardt/World Vision)

The Acrey and Lodge families were able to build homes to provide for their growing families. Both neighbors were expecting babies when the tornadoes wiped out their previous homes. The high-quality building materials brought them a sense of security for the future.

The Lodge family's new house in progress. (Photo: Laura Reinhardt/World Vision)

Becky Ellis of the United Way in Etowah County said, “I think that the biggest thing with the donations is enabling those families whose lives were devastated, to give them hope that people out there care.”

Preparing kids for spring break and summer

Then, as the school year wound down, World Vision continued partnering with schools to ensure that children were cared for once they didn’t have the daily support of the school system. Cordova Elementary School students received hygiene kits from World Vision -- filled with items such as a toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, shampoo, and body wash.

World Vision hygiene kit distribution at a local school. (Photo: Rick Miltimore/World Vision)

Children read the heart-felt notes of encouragement from volunteers across the country that continued to provide support by building these much-needed supplies.

A girl in elementary school reads the note from a World Vision donor that came in her hygiene kit. (Photo: Rick Miltimore/World Vision)

The principal cried upon reading one of the messages. She said it was a God moment.

A long-term response

World Vision continued its work in Alabama for two years. That leaves me with a feeling of hope, knowing that the people of Moore will likely experience the same long-term commitment from World Vision and our donors.

Susan Carter from the United Way in Etowah County said it best: “They (the donors) will have no idea how much they have touched the lives of these families. And you know, it’s not just there and now. It’s for generations to come.”

Make a one-time donation to our U.S. Disaster Response Fund. After powerful storms unleashed devastating tornadoes in Oklahoma and North Texas in the late spring and early summer, World Vision relief teams have begun an emergency response to deliver pre-positioned supplies -- food kits, hygiene supplies, clean-up kits, blankets, and more -- to help families and children hardest hit by the disaster. We’ll also be in these places over the long term, like in Tuscaloosa, providing support to families and communities as they recover and rebuild.

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