(Photo: Napoleon Darby lost his home and seven relatives who lived nearby in the March 3 tornado.)
In the hours and days after a massive EF-4 tornado ravaged the rural Alabama community of Beauregard obliterating homes and killing 23 people ranging in age from 6 to 89, there was a flurry of activity. There was a desperate search for the missing, caring for the wounded and then days of clearing debris and finding temporary housing for people who were grieving the losses of loved ones even as they wondered where they would sleep at night.
That was followed by a lull, as so often happens after a natural disaster. The spotlight fades, and attention turns to other events and disasters. The victims left behind often feel forgotten and abandoned.
That’s not the case this week in Beauregard as more than 75 volunteers have been busy putting up three new hopes in a one-week blitz build funded by East Alabama Medical Center and its charitable outreach arm, Cornerstone. Instead of asking “Now what?” tornado victims are looking at these rapidly rising houses and saying, “No way!”
As the first walls were raised on empty concrete slabs Monday, homeowner partners like Wayne Robinson were understandably skeptical that he would be living in a new house shortly after this blitz week.
“It’s coming along faster than I thought,” he admitted from the steps of an RV loaned to him during the recovery.
The RV sits across from the house he once shared with his sister Maggie Robinson, an East Alabama Medical Center nurse who was killed by the twister. A cross with her name sits in front of the RV, joining a smattering of crosses for other relatives in the area. Monday’s flurry of activity provided a much-needed morale boost.
“That makes me feel really good right there, like people really care,” Robinson said. “We just never believed anything like that would happen around here. It was kind of hard to swallow.”
About 200 yards north along Lee Road 36, the Robinsons’ first cousin Napoleon Darby recalled the tragic day as he took a break from working on his new home.
“It was a day that has had me running ever since,” Darby said. “The house was blown away from where it stood. Then I heard about the deaths of my cousins, and that was unbelievable. It is hard to find the words. It was just utter, total devastation. I’ve seen videos on The Weather Channel, but there’s nothing like when it happens to you.”
This week’s three-home build is a precursor to the Millard Fuller Legacy Build coming to Beauregard in September, during which eight more homes will be built in a week. The Chattahoochee Fuller Center Project — which normally works in the communities of Lanett and Valley, Ala. and West Point, Ga. — is coordinating the builds. Fuller Center for Housing President David Snell came from the international headquarters to witness Monday’s first day of the build and said these houses represent much more than badly needed places to live. He said they are rising as “monuments of hope.”
“When you stand on hill looking over a valley that has been devastated by a tornado, it’s hard to think in terms of hope,” Snell said. “The destruction is overwhelming — the houses are gone, the trees are down, and bits of daily life are strewn all around. Watching a new house rise above the rubble, though, gives power to the notion of hope.
“That’s what is happening in Beauregard, Alabama, where the first three of eleven new Fuller Center homes are going up this week,” he added. “Good people are sharing of their time and resources to lift up those in need of seeing hope in action. It’s what the Gospel is all about.”
“You see all the hate that’s on the news, and you miss out on all the good love that’s out there,” Darby said as he looked around at all the volunteers there to help him rebuild his life. “This tells me there’s more love in the world than hate. This is a miracle.”
Providence Baptist Church hosted a wall pre-build day on Saturday in its parking lot, where student-athletes from the University of Alabama and Auburn University put their rivalry on hold to help tornado victims. Providence also is the main host for the 2019 Millard Fuller Legacy Build.
“This is wonderful to see, but this is not a spring. This is going to take a long time,” Providence pastor the Rev. Rusty Sowell said as he scanned the horizon of destroyed homes and broken trees. “But I hope when this is all over, people will be able to look around and say, ‘Look what God did!'”
Below: WTVM-TV report featuring interviews with David Snell and Chattahoochee Fuller Center Project Executive Director Kim Roberts
Photo gallery from Monday’s work: