Archived Story

The long road to recovery begins right now

Published 7:59am Wednesday, May 18, 2011

It has been three weeks since the historic storms of April 27 when a series of tornadoes wreaked havoc across the state.

Most of Alabama was affected, and the damage was so widespread and intense that almost half of Alabama counties have been declared federal disaster areas.

We have all seen the affects of the storms and their aftermath. Places well known and long established are now unfamiliar, with landmarks destroyed and the landscape forever altered.

Another picture is also becoming familiar, that of tens of thousands of people from around the state and country helping those in need. Assistance has flooded in from all parts of the nation and every community in Alabama. Such outpouring of help shows how much we care about others, and that tragedy can bring out our better angels.

Hundreds have shown up at disaster sites, helping people salvage important personal belongings, stretching tarps over houses, using chain saws to remove trees.  Water, food, and clothing have come in by the truckload, to the point where relief workers are having a difficult time storing them. They are now asking for different types of donations, financial contributions rather than commodities.

The shift in the kinds of aid needed underscores the change from disaster relief to disaster recovery. Dealing with injuries, food and shelter is key in the first days. Once those immediate needs are taken care of, the much longer work of recovery can begin.

The state and local agencies focused initially on the most immediate problems will shift in the coming months to how we help people long-term.  They will be focused on the best way to rebuild communities. If relief is a sprint, recovery is a marathon, and initial steps will have a huge impact on how well we do years from now.

First things first, Alabama insurance officials will make sure that people who lost their homes and businesses are treated fairly. Thousands of structures were lost or damaged in the storms.  So far, insurance companies have made good faith efforts and had their adjusters out in the field.

Democrats in the Legislature are dedicated to making sure people are treated fairly and honestly, regardless of where they are from or their economic circumstances.

Unemployment is expected to rise slightly in the next months due to the loss of major industries and small businesses. The Alabama Department of Industrial Relations stands ready to help those workers affected, and the Alabama Development Office has already contacted the major companies affected to see how the state can help in the rebuilding process.

State officials are also starting to look at the economic impact of the storms. Forestry officials say that more than $300 million in trees were wiped out, the natural resource the state billion-dollar paper and wood industry is based on.

They are already making plans to salvage downed trees, and recover some of the value of the state’s damaged forests. Recovery will also mean replanting forests on an unprecedented scale.

The Legislature has worked to provide flexibility for school systems affected by the storm, reducing the number of necessary class days.

We also must help rebuild the six schools that were destroyed by passing a bond issue to provide the funds that insurance may not. The quicker we pass that legislation, the faster we get kids out of the portable classroom and back into a new school buildings.

The picture right now may still be bleak. Yet, the images of volunteers from all walks of life heartened us.

Their helpful response must be duplicated by effective work of state and local government. Everyone working together will get us started down the road to recovery.

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

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