3 weeks ago

Alabama communities, nonprofits rallied to aid neighbors after 2011 tornadoes

Thinking back on the tremendous devastation and death toll caused by the 62 tornadoes that swept Alabama on April 27, 2011, Robin Skagen said there’s only one word to describe that dark day: “surreal.”

Skagen, an American Red Cross disaster action team responder at the time, was one of the first on the ground after a tornado swept through the Tuscaloosa area early that morning. It was her job to help assess the damage so the Red Cross could determine ways it could assist the victims.

Skagen encountered everything from homes that were torn apart to live power lines blocking the road to a man who answered the door with a bandage around his head because a beam had fallen on him. Later that night, a pregnant woman would walk 6 miles to a Red Cross shelter because her home and car were destroyed.

“That morning, I saw things I had never seen before, and I had no idea that we had a super-cell tornado still to come,” said Skagen, vice chair of the board of the Red Cross Central-West Alabama chapter.

Skagen said because more than 5,000 homes in the Tuscaloosa area were damaged or destroyed, one of the Red Cross’s biggest jobs in the following weeks was providing temporary lodging for displaced storm victims.

Despite the horror of those twisters, Skagen said they brought out the best in the community, with hundreds of volunteers from across the state offering to help. One man, she said, flew in from Israel to lend a hand in Tuscaloosa.

“I saw so many people coming together and meeting a need,” said Skagen, who worked at the Red Cross shelter at the Belk Center in Tuscaloosa for weeks after the storms. “Where there was a hole, somebody would fill it. People donated everything you can think of. The spirit of helpfulness in this community was remarkable. It was so inspiring to me to see everyone coming together with a common goal.”

Annette Rowland said after disasters like April 27, 2011, the Red Cross provides temporary shelter, as well as first aid and financial assistance that can be used to buy food, clothing or medicine. Red Cross volunteers also help re-connect families who are separated during storms.

“Our first priority is making sure that people feel loved and know that we care,” said Rowland, communications director for the American Red Cross of Alabama and Mississippi. “People really do count on the Red Cross to be there after a disaster, and it’s important that we live up to that reputation.”

Down the road in Birmingham

Meanwhile, John Stamps and his Salvation Army team of volunteers were in Birmingham, another hard-hit area, handing out water and snacks to first responders on the day of the storms. Later, they set up mobile feeding canteens in damaged Birmingham neighborhoods. The Salvation Army command posts in Mobile, Pensacola, Florida and Lake Charles, Louisiana, brought their own mobile canteens to help provide food for the victims.

After a few days, a distribution center opened in Homewood where storm victims could pick up everything from canned goods and nonperishable items, toiletries and clothing to baby diapers, formula and dog food. The Salvation Army provided gift cards, furniture, appliances and financial aid, Stamps said.

“Whatever the family needed, we would go ahead and do it if we had the time,” said Stamps, director of operations for the Salvation Army of Greater Birmingham. “It was our goal to make sure families had the items they needed to stabilize them at the time.”

Alabama Power employees reach out

Alabama Power employees turned out in droves to help storm victims. Alabama Power Service Organization (APSO) chapters across the state launched giving programs and collected pallets of bottled water, nonperishable food items and supplies. APSO volunteers donated their time to relief efforts, such as picking up debris, grilling hot dogs, staffing relief centers and cleaning up affected areas, from Tuscaloosa to Birmingham to Hackleburg to the Lake Martin area. APSO members include Alabama Power and Southern Company employees in the state and their family members.

“All the employees stepped up,” said Paige Lake, who was APSO state president in 2011. “After they worked 10 and 12 hours a day, employees would volunteer to sort and deliver supplies to agencies and churches that were distributing them. Employees outside affected communities also reached out to help.” The APSO chapter in the southeast section of the state, which includes employees from Farley Nuclear Plant, filled a truck trailer with supplies they collected, said Lake, an Alabama Power market specialist based in Tuscaloosa.

Lake said the gratitude of the storm victims who lived in Rosedale Court, a public housing complex in Tuscaloosa that suffered devastating damage, was especially touching. One evening after work, APSO members took a load of toys, cleaning supplies, snacks and food items to Rosedale Court. The families needed supplies to clean the apartments that could still be occupied, and toys and food for the children who were being cared for while their parents looked for housing or helped with the cleanup.

“The Rosedale families were so touched by our actions that many started crying and hugs were given to all involved,” Lake said. “I believe that it brought tears to all of our eyes.”

The help goes on

Ten years later, the devastating tornadoes of April 27, 2011, continue to have an impact, with communities working hard to ensure they are prepared for future disasters. It was out of those storms that 71 community safe rooms were constructed statewide, which have saved hundreds of lives, said Becky Booker, executive director of United Ways of Alabama, based in Montgomery.

“When there are storms, these community safe rooms give folks a safe and secure place to go. That’s huge, in my eyes,” Booker said. “Every safe room holds an average of 150 people. Multiply that by 70, and that’s a lot of people who may not have been safe had they not gone there.”

Since 2011, the Alabama Governor’s Emergency Relief Fund (GERF) has helped pay for the construction of community safe rooms, the repair of more than 600 homes and the installation of many storm warning sirens. Additionally, more than $4 million was provided to storm victims following the 2011 tornado outbreak that destroyed thousands of homes and businesses and took the lives of as many as 252 Alabamians.

GERF was created by Gov. Bob Riley after Hurricanes Ivan and Katrina, and it continues to support the unmet needs of families and individuals recovering from severe disasters in Alabama. The Governor’s Office of Volunteer Services and the Alabama Emergency Management Agency co-chair the GERF, and it is administered by United Ways of Alabama.

Alabama Power is a strong supporter of the GERF and its storm recovery efforts. In 2011, the company was a lead sponsor of a charity flag football game in Hoover between former University of Alabama and Auburn University players. The game, along with a silent auction and golf tournament, raised $150,000 for the GERF.

From the start, Alabama Power and the Alabama Power Foundation have sponsored the annual “Bo Bikes Bama” bicycle ride, led by Bo Jackson, former star of Auburn University football, the NFL and Major League Baseball.

Though he lived hundreds of miles from his home state in 2011, Jackson was shocked by the devastation and wanted to help storm victims. On the first anniversary of the tornadoes, he brought together many of his celebrity friends, leading them on a five-day bicycle ride to visit storm-ravaged towns statewide. Bo Bikes Bama became an annual event in 2013 when Jackson returned for a one-day ride in the hard-hit community of Cordova. Since then, the event has raised more than $2.1 million for the governor’s relief fund and now attracts about 1,000 bike riders from across the nation each year.

Stamps said the response effort in the days and weeks following the April 27, 2011, storms was tremendous.

“It was an amazing effort to see so many people responding to their neighbors in need,” he said. “There was so much damage, but there were so many people going out to help and an incredible outpouring of love and caring.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

5 hours ago

Tuberville celebrates public charter schools — ‘Look forward to their continued success’

U.S. Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) this week co-sponsored a resolution honoring the 22nd annual National Charter Schools Week, which ends this Saturday.

The resolution was bipartisan and introduced by U.S. Senator Tim Scott (R-SC).

“After spending 40 years recruiting students from high schools all over the country, I know the difference a quality education can make in a young person’s life. I’ve seen public charter schools give parents a valuable option for students in Alabama and across the country,” said Tuberville in a statement.

“Charter schools give educators more flexibility to teach in ways that best fit students’ unique needs, and studies show charter schools help close the achievement gap for our most at-risk students,” he concluded. “I’m grateful for the educators and administrators who have helped make charter schools available to students and parents, and look forward to their continued success in educating America’s next generation of leaders.”

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Nationally, 44 states — including Alabama — and the District of Columbia have public charter schools, with more than 7,500 schools serving approximately 3.3 million students.

Scott’s resolution congratulates “the students, parents, teachers, and leaders of charter schools across the United States for making ongoing contributions to education.”

The resolution notes that “high-performing public charter schools deliver a high-quality public education and challenge all students to reach their potential for academic success.”

“[P]ublic charter schools promote innovation and excellence in public education,” it continues. “[P]ublic charter schools throughout the United States provide millions of families with diverse and innovative educational options for the children of those families.”

The resolutions especially praises public charter schools for “making impressive strides in closing the academic achievement gap in schools in the United States, particularly in schools with some of the most disadvantaged students in both rural and urban communities.”

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

9 hours ago

State Rep. Stringer ousted from Mobile County Sheriff’s Office over ‘difference of opinion’ with sheriff; Blames pro-Second Amendment stance for removal

On Friday, the Mobile County Sheriff’s Office announced State Rep. Shane Stringer (R-Citronelle) was no longer serving as a captain for the department.

According to Mobile County Sheriff Office spokeswoman, Stringer was dismissed for his support of so-called constitutional carry, and Mobile County Sheriff Sam Cochran had a “difference of opinion” with the Mobile County Republican legislator.

Shortly after those reports surfaced, Stringer responded with his own press statement declaring himself “proud to stand in defense of the Second Amendment.”

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“The Second Amendment gun rights of Alabamians are under attack from a liberal federal government that is out of control and even from some factions right here at home,” Stringer said in a release. “After dedicating my life and career to law enforcement, losing a job because I stand in support of Alabama gun owners is certainly surprising, but nothing will discourage me from defending the constitutional guarantees promised to all of us as American citizens.”

Also, according to the release, Cochran notified Stringer, who served as the Satsuma Police Chief before winning his election in 2018 to serve in the State House, on Wednesday of his dismissal from the captain’s post in the department “because he is sponsoring ‘constitutional carry’ gun rights legislation.

HB618 would allow Alabamians to carry or conceal a pistol without first obtaining a permit from their local sheriff’s office, an effort that the state’s sheriffs have vociferously opposed in the past.

“The U.S. Constitution does not say you have a right to keep and bear arms as long as you pay what amounts to a gun tax in the form of permit fees,” Stringer said in the release. “It says you have the right to keep and carry firearms. . .period.”

“As a state legislator, I swore an oath to God that I would support the U.S. Constitution, and this legislation does just that,” he added. “And whether or not I am employed by the Mobile Sheriff’s Office, my heart and soul will always belong to the mission of enforcing the law and to my fellow officers who seek to protect the men, women, and children of Alabama.”

The bill has 11 other co-sponsors, including State Rep. Proncey Robertson (R-Mount Hope), who served as an officer in the Decatur Police Department.

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and the University of South Alabama, the editor of Breitbart TV, a columnist for Mobile’s Lagniappe Weekly, and host of Mobile’s “The Jeff Poor Show” from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. on FM Talk 106.5.

13 hours ago

Report: Environmental activists team up with socialists, sex workers in Birmingham

According to a report published Thursday, left-wing Birmingham environmental group GASP is moving to support socialism and sex work in the Magic City.

Alabama Today reported that a rally is being planned in Birmingham to support sex workers, including prostitutes.

The first speaker listed for the event is reportedly GASP’s Nina Morgan, and the organization itself is set to have a table at the event alongside the local “Party for Socialism and Liberation.”

“Stated in their latest Facebook post is, ‘Without the economic, political, military and diplomatic backing of U.S. imperialism, the state of Israel would not last long,'” Alabama Today noted.

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Morgan is listed as GASP’s “Climate & Environmental Justice Organizer.”

“She became radicalized first and foremost by her parents, who were divorced but often had conversations with her and her twin brother about the social ills of the world. Further, her political analysis emerged during her time serving on the youth council of a reproductive justice initiative called the Alabama Alliance for Healthy Youth,” GASP’s website advises.

The event, scheduled for June 6, is billed as an “International Sex Workers’ Day Rally.”

Per the Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP) website, the day is an annual event. One of the organization’s core values is, “Opposition to all forms of criminalization and other legal oppression of sex work.”

A flier promoting the event shows a police car in flames, smushed by a stiletto.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

14 hours ago

7 Things: Biden says you have his permission to take off your mask, special session may be needed, Democratic state representatives want Huntsville’s police chief fired and more …

7. 150 Republicans emerge and embarrass themselves again 

  • Since the first day Donald Trump came down the escalator, the American media and their Democrats touted the “courageous Republicans” who would abandon the party over the former president. With U.S. Representative Liz Cheney (R-WY) losing her leadership post, those same people are leaving the party again, for real this time.
  • The “Call for American Renewal” is an uncompelling list of the usually gripers and grifters, CNN and MSNBC contributors and Lincoln Project hacks. This includes independent presidential candidate Evan McMullin, former Trump staffer Anthony Scaramucci, Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Richard Painter, columnist Max Boot and a “Who’s who or who’s that?” of American politics.

6. White House: We have to teach about systematic racism

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  • White House press secretary Jen Psaki responded to some who have said that teaching critical race theory is “liberal indoctrination,” saying that they don’t “think we believe that educating the youth, next leaders of the future, leaders of the country, on systemic racism is indoctrination.”
  • Psaki went on to say that teaching about systemic racism is “actually responsible.” This comes after U.S. Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) introduced the Ivory Tower Act to tax the endowments of colleges and universities to put more money toward training in trades. Cotton said that these establishments are making money while “indoctrinating our youth with un-American ideas.”

5. Ivey makes it clear that Alabama stands with Israel

  • Governor Kay Ivey clearly stated that Alabama is standing with Israel as they face attacks from the terrorist organization Hamas in Gaza. There has been some speculation from UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Tor Wennesland that if conflict continues or gets worse, it could result in “a full-scale war.”
  • Alabama has a strong business relationship with Israel, with exports totaling $49 million in 2020, which was 27% higher than the state’s exports to Israel in 2019. Ivey spokesperson Gina Maiola said, “[I]it is appropriate with Alabama’s longstanding relationship with Israel that she reaffirmed our position as an ally and friend. As Governor Kay Ivey said this morning, Alabama stands with Israel.”

4. Group calling for Huntsville PD chief to be fired or forced to resign

  • Due to the comments made by Huntsville Police Chief Mark McMurray after officer William Ben Darby was convicted of murder, the Rosa Parks Day Committee in Huntsville is calling for Mayor Tommy Battle to fire McMurray.
  • State House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels (D-Huntsville) and State Representative Laura Hall (D-Huntsville) were present with the committee at a press conference where they made these requests. They claimed that McMurray should be removed due to his comments on Darby and the handling of the protests downtown in 2020.

 3. Special session likely needed for issues like prisons and gambling

  • State Senator Clyde Chambliss (R-Prattville) said it’s likely a special session will be necessary to deal with issues like prisons and gambling since there’s only one more day left in the regular session and it’s unlikely that these issues will be resolved in that short time.
  • Chambliss said that Governor Kay Ivey should at least call “a five-day short special session to make it work.” He added that a special session to deal with building more prisons in the state is even more necessary as there have been funding concerns and the state still faces an order from the U.S. Department of Justice to fix unconstitutional conditions. Chambliss went on to say that if the issue isn’t addressed, he thinks “the DOJ is going to be very serious about their next steps.”

2. Biden thinks he did something on masks

  • New guidelines have been released from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on when vaccinated people should wear a mask by saying that they don’t need to wear a mask “in any setting” and you can “resume activities that you did prior to the pandemic.” The U.S. House, some cities (including Birmingham), states, and many businesses will keep the masks for now.
  • President Joe Biden hilariously tweeted some authoritarian nonsense, stating, “The rule is now simple: get vaccinated or wear a mask until you do.” Governor Kay Ivey praised the decision to lift masks, despite only lifting the statewide mask mandate in Alabama about a month ago. She said, “Finally, we are seeing some encouraging, common sense guidance from the CDC.”

1. Now schools should be open, too

  • After months of resistance to reopening schools, a teachers union is now deciding that schools must reopen in the fall. Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers said, “There is no doubt: Schools must be open,” adding, “Given current circumstances, nothing should stand in the way of fully reopening our public schools this fall and keeping them open.” Weingarten also said, “The United States will not be fully back until we are fully back in school. And my union is all in.”
  • Dr. Anthony Fauci is calling for the schools to open up all the way, telling CNN, “I believe the schools should be open five days, full blast, just the way it was before,” and he wants it done “by the time we get to the fall.”

16 hours ago

Huntsville-based Torch Technologies awarded $722M U.S. Army contract

Huntsville-headquartered Torch Technologies this week announced a $722 million contract award from the federal government.

The task order comes via U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command (DEVCOM) Aviation and Missile Center (AvMC) Systems Simulation Software and Integration Directorate (S3I) for Modeling and Simulation (M&S) Aviation and Missile Systems. The order has a five-year period of performance and will be executed primarily in the Rocket City.

According to a press release, the Torch team will develop and apply models and simulations to aviation and missile system analysis ensuring warfighter readiness and future capabilities are realized.

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Torch will reportedly supply cost-effective solutions that facilitate readiness and technological dominance of the Army’s current and future force.

“Torch is pleased to continue our long-standing relationship with the DEVCOM AvMC S3I M&S customers,” stated Torch president and CEO John Watson. “We are proud to be a part of their important mission to provide weapons development and modernization support to our warfighters.”

A 100% employee-owned business with more than 900 global employees dedicated to quality technical services, competitive costs and ethical business practices, Torch also has an Alabama presence at Fort Rucker in the Wiregrass. In 2019, Torch annual revenues were approximately $513 million.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn