Tuscaloosa, Alabama (AFP) May 1, 2011
Grieving storm survivors turned to prayer and the good grace of volunteers Sunday across the US south as shattered communities looked to rebuild after the second-worst tornado disaster on record.
Churches from Mississippi to Virginia flung open their doors for prayers, some in the very houses of worship destroyed by powerful tornadoes that claimed nearly 350 lives on Wednesday.
"This is the Bible Belt. Church goes on regardless," Tennessee Emergency Management Agency spokesman Jeremy Heidt told AFP.
In hardest-hit Alabama, where Governor Robert Bentley declared a state-wide day of prayer, the faithful gathered under open skies, in parking lots and church sites on the first Sunday since the historic disaster wiped several of their churches off the map.
In the town of Phil Campbell, congregants erected a makeshift wooden cross and sang hymns on the concrete slab where the Church of God once stood, before some of the most powerful tornadoes on record left it and thousands of homes and businesses in splinters.
In the devastated town of Smithville, Mississippi -- population 900 -- the Church of Christ has been converted into a food, clothing and medicine distribution center, and the congregation gathered outside for a short open-air service.
"We're just going to remember the dead and buried by taking the Lord's supper, and give of our means. People come together when the need arises," said church elder Danny Stephenson, 62.
"Of our six churches, four of them is gone," he said. Sixteen of 18 Smithville businesses were demolished by the killer twisters. "There ain't nothing left. Just wiped clean, like you took a bulldozer to it all."
Like communities across the battered region, neighbors helped neighbors in Smithville, and volunteers conducted search and rescue, cooked meals for victims, and helped haul debris.
"The whole town has come together," Stephenson said. "And I've talked to one family, they're going to rebuild right where they're at."
President Barack Obama, who signed disaster declarations for Alabama and parts of Georgia, Mississippi and Tennessee, dispatched cabinet members including Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano to tour the destruction in Birmingham, Alabama, where they spoke with survivors and assured expanded federal aid to help communities recover and rebuild.
The American Red Cross has opened 16 shelters across Alabama, taking in about 900 of the newly homeless, the organization announced.
Obama reiterated his pledge to help the region recover.
"It's going to be a long road back and so we need to keep those Americans in our thoughts and in our prayers," Obama said late Saturday. "We also need to stand with them in the hard months and perhaps years to come."
But the scope of the devastation was almost unimaginable, particularly in Tuscaloosa, where Mayor Walter Maddox said 5,731 building have been destroyed or badly damaged and more than 400 people remained unaccounted for, although he acknowledged several of those were likely staying with relatives.
The death toll in Alabama stood at 250 on Sunday, with another 2,219 people injured.
Mississippi has confirmed 35 deaths, and its emergency management agency touched on the scope of the disaster in reporting 993 homes destroyed and another 2,527 damaged in the state.
There were also 34 deaths in Tennessee, 15 in Georgia, eight in Arkansas and five in Virginia.
The overall death toll of 347 is exceeded only by a tornado outbreak in March 1925 that left 747 people dead.
Search and rescue teams were moving into smaller communities that didn't get immediate attention after the storms, and they are coming upon more destruction, said Yasamie August, an Alabama emergency management spokeswoman.
"We are still finding complete subdivisions and homes completely leveled. It is very devastating to see," she said.
Fire and rescue teams were going door to door, some with cadaver dogs, in the poor Tuscaloosa neighborhood of Alberta City, where blocks of low-income housing were left in ruins and residents were seen painstakingly combing through the rubble.
Several aid groups had already set up in the region, including the Salvation Army, a faith-based humanitarian group that has established 40 mobile feeding units, providing 20,000 warm meals per day.
"Sometimes a cup of water or coffee or a hot meal reminds people that someone cares for them and loves them and is there to help meet their needs," the Salvation Army's Mark Jones told AFP.
Share This Article With Planet Earth
Bringing Order To A World Of Disasters
A world of storm and tempest
When the Earth Quakes
Japan PM on defensive over disaster leadership
Tokyo (AFP) May 1, 2011
Japan's unpopular Prime Minister Naoto Kan pleaded for public "understanding" Sunday after a poll showed three-quarters of people questioned his leadership and handling of the post-disaster crisis. In a weekend telephone survey by Kyodo news agency, 76 percent of 1,010 respondents believed Kan was "not exercising leadership" in dealing with the March 11 quake and tsunami and the ensuing cris ... read more
Day of prayer as US south mourns tornado victims|
New material could improve safety for first responders to chemical hazards
Japan passes 4 trillion yen disaster relief budget
Japan PM on defensive over disaster leadership
Researchers Find More Efficient Way To Steer Laser Beams
Chinese pay price for world's rare earths addiction
Chile finds radioactive traces in Korean cars
Slim new BlackBerry models join smartphone wars
Brazil hits back in anger over dam protest
New biomass data reveals fish stocks more stable than believed
Filthy toilets a blight on Asian prosperity
'Million-dollar sharks' boon to eco-tourism: report
Calling all candidates for Concordia
Melting ice on Arctic islands a major player in sea level rise
ESA-NASA Collaboration Furthers Sea-Ice Research
Melting ice on Arctic islands boosts sea levels: study
WWF welcomes first Bulgaria ban on Danube sturgeon fishing
How the fruit fly made its way out of Africa
Genetic study says China source of rice
Scorpion venom bad for bugs but good for pesticides
Japan mulls tsunami lessons for reconstruction
Ecuador on alert after volcano erupts
Forecasters predict multiple US hurricane landfalls
Rain is Colombia's 'worst' natural disaster: Santos
Chinese army gives rocket launchers, weapons to Sierra Leone
Disaster-hit Japan will not cut aid to Africa: spokesman
Diehard pro-Gbagbo militia begin to disarm
Darfur rebels reject draft Doha accord
From day one the brain knows the difference between night and day
Media multitasking is really multi-distracting
Grandma was right Infants do wake up taller
Pain and itch connected down deep
|The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2010 - SpaceDaily. AFP and UPI Wire Stories are copyright Agence France-Presse and United Press International. ESA Portal Reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. Advertising does not imply endorsement,agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by SpaceDaily on any Web page published or hosted by SpaceDaily. Privacy Statement|