Volunteers give food, shelter to storm survivors

By Michael Kunzelman

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, April 30 2011 9:31 a.m. MDT

Storms can still defeat technology. This week's tornadoes devastated the infrastructure of emergency safety workers. Emergency buildings were wiped out, bodies were being stored in refrigerated trucks, and authorities were left to beg for such basics as flashlights. In one neighborhood, the storms even left firefighters to work without a truck.

Volunteers stepped in to help almost as soon as the storms passed through. They ditched their jobs, shelled out their paychecks, donated blood and even sneaked past police blockades to get aid to some of the hardest-hit communities.

Still, others said the government wasn't doing enough.

Eighty-two-year-old Eugene Starks was working with a tow truck driver to pull a blown-out car from what remained of his garage on Saturday morning. He was hoping the government would provide more help so he could recover what was left from his wrecked house.

"I'm trying to do what I can myself," he said. "I hope the government steps in, but I'm not holding my breath."

Shamiya Clancy is one of those in desperate need of shelter after the homes where she and her family lived in the Alberta City neighborhood were wiped out. They're now pooling their resources — clothes, money, food, whatever they can scrounge — but none of them has anywhere else to go.

A stuffed bear that her husband gave her on Valentine's Day this year was the sole belonging she recovered when she sifted through the rubble. She was hoping to find family photos.

"If I could have found one picture, I'd be OK. I'd feel a little better," she said.

In Rainsville, a northeast Alabama town devastated by the storms, people in cars stopped to offer bread, water and crackers to residents picking through what was left of their belongings. A radio station broadcast offers of help, a store gave away air mattresses and an Italian restaurant served free hot meals. A glass shop offered to replace shattered windows for free.

Emergency services were stretched particularly thin in the demolished town of Hackleburg, Ala., where officials had kept the dead in a refrigerated truck because of a shortage of body bags. At least 27 people were killed there and the search for missing people continued, with FBI agents fanning out to local hospitals to help.

Back in Tuscaloosa's Alberta City neighborhood, a makeshift relief station was staffed by a mix of city employees, church members, National Guard troops and supermarket workers, and residents lined up for water, food and other basic supplies.

"We've got people who wanted to get in here and help, but they couldn't get in earlier," said relief station volunteer Doug Milligan, a Tuscaloosa native who is principal of a high school in nearby Woodstock, Ala.

Milligan had to sneak past the police blockades cordoning off the neighborhood. He figures he got by because he wore a T-shirt that read: "Bibb County Red Cross."

"I didn't tell them it's only because I ran a 5K," he said.

Kunzelman reported from Tuscaloosa. Associated Press writers Holbrook Mohr in Hackleburg, Jeffrey Collins and Chris Hawley in Rainsville, Michael Rubinkam in Pleasant Grove, John Christoffersen in Birmingham, Phillip Rawls in Montgomery and Kristi Eaton in Norman, Okla. contributed to this report.

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