Alabama Tries To Cope With Tornado Damage

fromWBHM

With homes destroyed, no power and expensive gasoline, Alabama residents hit by the storm are struggling.

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President Obama spent this morning touring tornado-ravaged neighborhoods in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He says he's never seen such devastation. Communities across the state are picking up the pieces today. Among the biggest obstacles to a recovery now are widespread power outages. That means people are having a hard time getting gas from the pumps, cash from the banks and food from the fridge.

From member station WBHM, Andrew Yeager has the story.

ANDREW YEAGER: At the Cullman, Alabama, Civic Center, about an hour north of Birmingham, volunteers and National Guard troops unload cases of water, plopping them down off the back of a pickup truck.

Unidentified Man #1: They're all right in there. Go to the front.

YEAGER: A volunteer waves them into the building, the official shelter and command center since the Red Cross building here was destroyed. Inside, volunteers, response workers and storm victims line up in the gym, eager to grab lunch.

Nancy Schnur's house survived the storm, but like many in the north Alabama, she has no power.

Ms. NANCY SCHHNUR: Everything in our freezer and refrigerator is gone. So we're coming here to eat.

YEAGER: And because local businesses are without power, too, there was plenty to eat for lunch. A restaurant that lost power donated food that would otherwise have spoiled.

As Diane Sharpton eats her lunch, she explains finding stores open to buy food has been a challenge.

Ms. DIANE SHARPTON: As far as I know, there was only two or three yesterday. I think more is open today for so many hours.

YEAGER: But Sharpton did manage to find an open store. All you can buy, though, are canned foods, bread, non-perishable items. And it's cash or check only.

Cullman City worker Darrell Johns says he's seen banks still trying to conduct business. They're using pen and paper instead of computers.

Mr. DARRELL JOHNS: You're having to do everything just about by hand. Sometimes there's a line, but we've been able to get checks deposited and cash back and things like that.

YEAGER: Lynn Robinson is with the local Red Cross. She says people initially didn't know where to go after the storm. But as word has gotten out, more people are streaming into the shelter. Generators are on the way. But people's needs go far beyond that.

Ms. LYNN ROBINSON (Red Cross): We've had people that need ice for insulin.

YEAGER: A local hospital donated that.

Ms. ROBINSON: We also are in need of diapers. So we've had wonderful churches to come in and bring lots of diapers, formula, food.

YEAGER: But Robinson is more concerned about fuel. Many gas stations are without electricity. So while they may have fuel, they can't pump it up from the tanks. Robinson has to pick up her husband at Birmingham's airport today.

Ms. ROBINSON: So I'm taking my gas cans there and filling up there and then bringing him home to help out at the shelter here.

(Soundbite of vehicle driving)

YEAGER: Along the highway out of Cullman, the lights are off, but the door is wide open at Jerry Pierce's gas station. He of course can't pump gas, it's cash only, but he's doing what he can.

Mr. JERRY PIERCE: We've been able to sell the inside, water, the drinks, what people could get for food because all the fast-food restaurants are closed here in Cullman, you know.

YEAGER: Pierce says he has a generator coming. That'll at least allow the station to pump gas. No debit or credit cards through. That's a phone-line issue. And he won't use the generator for the coolers. So the drinks won't be cold. Of course, it was supposed to arrive two hours ago.

Mr. PIERCE: It's one of those check's-in-the-mail deal.

(Soundbite of laughter)

YEAGER: Pierce and the rest of northern Alabama will be waiting a lot longer for real electricity. Utility officials estimate another seven to nine days for power across the region to be fully restored.

For NPR News, I'm Andrew Yeager.

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