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Repairing tornado-damaged homes in Birmingham

By Michele Duley


Partner Family member Erica Rogers’ Birmingham home was destroyed by the tornadoes that ripped through Alabama in April. The Greater Birmingham Habitat for Humanity Build-a-Thon participants worked on minor damage in Rogers’ neighborhood this week as part of its 2011 Build-a-Thon efforts. Photo courtesy of Hal Corlew, HFH Greater DeKalb


I have personally experienced several natural disasters in my lifetime, including a tropical storm on the verge of becoming a Category One hurricane and an earthquake major enough to do significant damage. And I’ve seen a lot of damage caused by humans and Mother Nature alike that would break the heart of any person with an ounce of compassion.

But of all my life experiences, I don’t think I’ve ever come across anything that really prepared me for the devastation and destruction left in the wake of the recent tornadoes that ripped through large sections of Alabama, along with several other regions across the country.

We set out to the North Smithfield area of Birmingham Monday morning, eager to begin our week-long journey through Build-a-Thon 2011.

The tornadoes had hit especially hard in this area, and there were many houses along the way that were touched in some way: missing roofs, torn or missing siding and shingles, holes in walls and missing doors. Some houses were completely demolished and the scraps of wood intermingled with ruined possessions were stacked neatly in a pile on the property, awaiting one of the many debris pickups to come in the weeks ahead.

A Habitat house just recently under construction was twisted badly enough to ruin the frame, and had to be deconstructed before it even became a home.

But not everything was destroyed. Whole houses and neighboring areas were left intact and unaffected, and for every house beyond repair there were several that required only minor repair work. Perhaps the hardest part to take from this disaster was the absolute randomness of it all. It was complete chance as to which houses suffered how much damage.

The miracle of the whole incident is that not one Habitat homeowner on this block was seriously injured or killed, a testament to the power and importance of homeowner education classes.

North Smithfield was not originally on our BAT itinerary for the week. The tornadoes and the damage they caused were a recent event, happening long after activities were finalized. But the disaster relief provided by the AmeriCorps today was nonetheless an integral part of the Habitat mission. In my estimation these efforts were a vitally important experience for us to take part in as we (as AmeriCorps, as Habitat for Humanity, and as global citizens) work to eliminate poverty housing, no matter what the cause.