Archived Story

The time to help is right now

Published 7:59am Wednesday, May 4, 2011

There are no words to describe what happened to our state when tornados swept across Alabama on April 27. Hundreds have lost their lives, thousands have lost their homes, and many communities were devastated by the worst storms in modern state history.

In the aftermath, we have seen what is great about our state. Thousands have responded to the call for help. People have dropped everything to help their neighbors, or have gone out of their way to assist folks many miles away.

The outpouring of aid and comfort has been remarkable, and over the next weeks and months our state will show the world what we are made of as we work to help the survivors and rebuild what was lost. (To help immediately, people can give to the Red Cross disaster relief. Information is listed at the bottom of this article.)

People will be digging out for weeks to come, going through what was left of their homes and possessions. Our thoughts and prayers go out to those families who are dealing with the aftermath of this terrible storm.

As a state, we have much work ahead of us to rebuild our churches, civic buildings, and infrastructure that took the heaviest blow in state history. More than a dozen schools were destroyed or damaged across the state. In one day, hundreds of classrooms are now gone or unusable. Such devastation is unprecedented.

Unfortunately, Alabama is no stranger to schools being hit by tornados. Just four years ago, a sudden storm swept through the Wiregrass and hit the schools in Enterprise, killing eight students. Years before that, Carbon Hill school was destroyed by a tornado.

Now thousands of students are without a place to learn and their lives are upended.

One of the lessons learned in Enterprise was how important it was to get the children back to some semblance of a normal schedule. Classes were held in makeshift arrangements with the local community college. Then portables were used as the school was rebuilt. Heaven and earth was moved to get the new school online, and that town now has a state of the art facility that is great for students and an important salve for the wound of the tragedy.

Back then, the Legislature responded immediately to the crisis of Enterprise, as it had with Carbon Hill, passing a large aid measure to get the rebuilding process started. It is critical for the Legislature to act as soon as possible to help local school systems start the rebuilding process. We have teams of state and local officials that in the coming days will provide detailed information on what it will take to replace lost or damaged classrooms.

With that information at the ready, the Legislature must take the first step in the rebuilding process. When we raise the first funds for rebuilding, it makes the coordination of federal assistance and the use of insurance payments work better and faster. If the Legislature does nothing in the coming weeks, it may delay getting students back into classrooms for months, possibly years.

The 2012 state education budget has not passed yet. It was slated for a final vote in the Senate this week. We must step back a moment and take time to understand what is needed in the rebuilding. Then we must put into the budget the means to help school systems start the rebuilding process immediately.

House Democrats call on the Republican legislative leadership to make sure what was done for Enterprise is done for places like Hackleburg, Phil Campbell, Tuscaloosa, and other communities reeling with the loss of schools and so much more.

Alabamians don’t wait to help; we get to it right away. The Legislature should do no less.

To donate to the Alabama relief, go to www.alredcross.org, or call 1-800-RED-CROSS (1-800-733-2767). You can also go online to various Alabama Red Cross chapters.

Johnny Mack Morrow is a state representative for Franklin County. His column appears each Wednesday.

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