Volunteers rush in amid storms' devastation

Family members and friends helped turn a car upright amid the rubble at Ron Nichols' home Saturday in Hackleburg, Ala. A massive tornado leveled portions of the town Wednesday.

PRATT CITY, Ala. --- Whether it's refilling blood-pressure medicine or patrolling neighborhoods in a grocery-filled truck, tornado victims in splintered Southern towns say volunteers are ensuring they're well-fed and warm at night. At least a few, though, say they need more from the government: Help getting into their homes and cleaning up debris.

 

Across the twister-ravaged South, students and church groups tended Saturday to those who needed it most, clearing wreckage and handing out food and water. Wednesday's tornadoes marked the second-deadliest day of twisters in U.S. history, leaving 341 people dead across seven states -- including 249 in Alabama. Thousands were hurt, and hundreds of homes and businesses have vanished into rubble.

Federal Emergency Management Agency workers handed out information to people in shelters about how to apply for help. National Guard soldiers stood watch, searched for survivors and helped sift through debris. Churches transformed into buzzing community hubs.

In Tuscaloosa, Ala., a Red Cross shelter was handing out clothes and providing counseling for people such as Carol Peck, 55, and her 77-year-old mother. She said the shelter's First Aid station even refilled her blood pressure pills without her having to ask.

She can't explain how it happened, but she suspects her clinic contacted the shelter.

"Evidently, because I sure didn't call," she said. "They knew I was here. I don't know how, but they found me."

In Ringgold, Ga., Poplar Springs Baptist Church had been transformed into an informal help center. Crews were dispatched from the church, some with chain saws to chop through the debris, others with bottled water and food. Inside the gymnasium, a barbecue buffet was feeding those without power.

"You've got elderly people out there who can't get out there and do it," said volunteer Kathleen Hensley, 40, of Ringgold. "They need a hand."

The University of Alabama's athletic department was pitching in around Tuscaloosa, with more than 50 athletic training students giving Gatorade, bottled water and protein bars to residents.

Most were grateful to get whatever they could.

Niki Eberhart, whose home in Tuscaloosa was shredded by the tornado, said her husband and two children are getting everything they need at the shelter.

This isn't the first time they have counted on the Red Cross. When their home in Meridian, Miss., burned down last year in an electrical fire, Eberhart said, the Red Cross responded within an hour.

"We feel like we've been blessed," she said. "Both times it could have been much worse. We lost things. Material possessions can be replaced."

Eberhart and her husband, Shane, had already gotten help from FEMA workers at the shelter. While they wait for a response from the feds, Eberhart dismissed relatives' offers of sympathy.

"I told them we're having great luck because it could have been so much worse," she said. "If you don't have any bad times, how are you going to appreciate the good times?"

Help for Georgia

President Obama on Saturday approved a federal disaster declaration for parts of Georgia ravaged by the deadly storm system. Gov. Nathan Deal said he appreciated Obama's prompt response.

The declaration makes federal funding available to help people recover in Bartow, Catoosa, Dade, Floyd, Polk, Spalding and Walker counties. Funds are also available on a cost-sharing basis for debris removal and emergency protective measures in 16 counties.

-- Associated Press