You are using an outdated browser. Please upgrade your browser to improve your experience.

Southern Tornadoes Leave Lives, Emotions in Upheaval


The physical needs created by a disaster—for food and shelter—are relatively straightforward. But as entire communities deal with what nature has wrought, getting back a sense of security and stability may be an even greater battle.

On Friday night, more than 1100 people spent the night in American Red Cross shelters across multiple states, including more than 700 in hard-hit Alabama.

In addition to giving people a safe place to stay, the Red Cross will have more than 115,000 ready-to-eat meals and thousands of relief supply items to distribute in Alabama over the next three days. The Red Cross has 61 emergency response vehicles in the state that will be traveling through neighborhoods to help residents.

Behind these large aggregate numbers are individuals whose world has been turned upside down and who are seeking to put their lives back together again. Here are some of their stories.

Searching for Pieces of a Former Life In Tuscaloosa, Ala., Ashla Sullivan, 26, says that she and her husband do not have a plan right now, but they know that they're homeless. "I'm still numb," Sullivan says while picking through the rubble, looking for wedding gifts and other personal belongings that she can salvage from the wreckage.

The tornado tore apart Sullivan's home and her new life, having only married last November. Sullivan, her husband and their pug dog "Moe" rode out the storm in the bathroom and emerged to see their home and their neighborhood in pieces. Now, strangers have shown up to assist her with recovering what's left of her home.

In Alberta City, a neighborhood on the east side of Tuscaloosa, Rickey McGee, 54, sifts through pieces of sheet rock and other debris looking for anything that he can save. McGee and his two sons survived the storm, but several neighbors did not. "I heard the wind," he said. "I knew it was coming."

McGee's house is gone, but his Alberta City neighborhood in Tuscaloosa is still home. "We will rebuild," he says.

Others, like Nate Taylor, say that they will not return to this neighborhood.

Taylor, 42, wipes tears from his face while talking about what's left of his home in Tuscaloosa. "I've never experienced anything like this in my life," Taylor said, while working as quickly as he could before nightfall to retrieve personal belongings that will help restart life for him, his wife and two children.

What breaks Taylor's heart most is knowing that his efforts to save a grandmother and two children down the street were unsuccessful. Bewildered and still in shock, Taylor hopes to recover necessary medications that his wife needs every day.

Local church members have provided Taylor and his family with a temporary home, but many others do not have this help and are relying on the American Red Cross to provide them with a safe and warm place to stay.

Those staying at Red Cross shelters receive regular meals, emotional support, first aid and basic health care. Many also receive lots of hugs, which are for some the most important Red Cross assistance of all.

Someone to Lean On, in Good Times and Bad In one Clarke County, Miss., neighborhood, the same powerful tornado took lives from one family, yet left another across the highway relatively unscathed.

Red Cross workers are there to mourn with those that lost loved ones, assist them with funeral arrangements and check on their health and mental health needs. The emotions run so deep that often there are no words—but there is always a shoulder to cry on.

Another family huddled in their bathroom as the tornado roared toward them and destroyed their home. Miraculously, they escaped with only scratches.

The day after the storm, the teenage boys in the family rejoiced as they discovered music players and video games still in working condition, and their parents marveled at a 100-year-old dresser and mirror still standing without a crack.

Red Cross workers were there to experience a lighter moment with this family, sharing a laugh as one teenage son joked around. They all just express gratitude to still be alive, and now the Red Cross will help them move forward.

In the days ahead, the Red Cross will continue to focus on providing not only shelter, food and supplies for disaster survivors, but also much-needed emotional support. Wherever families are—in a shelter or in their neighborhoods to pick up the pieces—the Red Cross will also be there in this time of need.

How the Public Can Help

The Red Cross depends on financial donations to help in times of disaster. Those who want to help people affected by disasters like wildfires, floods and tornadoes, as well as countless crises at home and around the world, can make a donation to support American Red Cross Disaster Relief. This gift enables the Red Cross to prepare for and provide shelter, food, emotional support and other assistance in response to disasters. Visit www.redcross.org or call 1-800-RED-CROSS, and people can also text the word “REDCROSS” to 90999 to make a $10 donation. Contributions may also be sent to local American Red Cross chapters or to the American Red Cross, P.O. Box 37243, Washington, DC 20013.