Portraits Of Tuscaloosa Help Victims Start Again

In Alabama, many residents are still picking up the pieces after a wave of deadly tornadoes in April. The storms killed more than 200 and destroyed thousands of homes. In the hard-hit city of Tuscaloosa this weekend, a photographer is helping families replace something that seems irreplaceable: family portraits. Bradley George has more from member station WBHM.

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In Alabama, many residents are still picking up the pieces after last month's wave of deadly tornadoes. Many of the houses can be rebuilt but the objects inside, like family photos, can't be replaced. This weekend, a group of photographers came together in Tuscaloosa to help storm victims make new memories. Bradley George has more from member station WBHM.

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BRADLEY GEORGE: It's Saturday morning. We're at the gym at American Christian Academy in Tuscaloosa. One-by-one, families stand in front of a gray backdrop to have their pictures taken.

Unidentified Man: You ready? All right. One more, one more. Here we go. And big smile.

GEORGE: This feels more like a party than a school portrait day. Children bounce a beach ball around the room, pop music blares from the gym's PA system. Everyone seems to be having a good time, but there are more serious reasons for today's get-together.

Mr. MILLER MOBLEY (Photographer): I think this is just a good break, you know?

GEORGE: Photographer Miller Mobley now calls New York home. He grew up here in Tuscaloosa. He says after seeing images of tornado destruction he wanted to do something to help storm-battered residents of his hometown. So, he and his wife created this event. It's called Relief Portraits.

Mr. MOBLEY: I could've came here and chopped down a tree and chain-sawed something and, I don't know, helped out in a way like that. But I just felt like I needed to use the resources I have because not everybody has these resources.

GEORGE: Miller wanted to reach out to people who lost family pictures and portraits, the treasured evidence of their binds before the storm. Storm victims are also welcome to just sit and hang out, have some food and talk to each other or the volunteers on hand. A local department store donated clothes that people can wear during their photo sessions and keep. Make-up artists are on hand for the women who are taking part, like Nikki Everhart.

Ms. NIKKI EVERHART: You can never replace mementos. You know, those are times that you can't go back and get. But, you know, at least they're trying to make new memories.

GEORGE: Everhart's family has spent most of the past month in a shelter and she says she just signed the lease on a new apartment. Today, she came to create a memento that will reside on the mantle in her new home, testaments to her family surviving her storms.

Ms. EVERHART: I was able to save a few little keepsakes of my mom's - she passed in 2006. But pretty much a lot of the stuff is broken or covered with debris, dirt, blew away. And this is just to show, hey, we're still here.

GEORGE: Photographer Miller Mobley says he wants to see similar events in the wake of other disasters. He says he's already heard from someone in Joplin, Missouri.

For NPR News, I'm Bradley George in Tuscaloosa.

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