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Phil Campbell Celebration Turns Into Fundraiser For Twister-Ravaged Town

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Phil Campbell Celebration Turns Into Fundraiser For Twister-Ravaged Town

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Phil Campbell Celebration Turns Into Fundraiser For Twister-Ravaged Town

Phil Campbell Celebration Turns Into Fundraiser For Twister-Ravaged Town

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This weekend was supposed to be a celebration — with a gathering of people named Phil Campbell from across the world meeting up in the town of Phil Campbell, Alabama. That was before the town was hit was a devastating tornado in April. Now the gathering has turned into a fundraiser with 18 Phil Campbells headed to Phil Campbell the town. Melissa Block speaks with Jerry Mays, the mayor of Phil Campbell, and the Phil Campbell organizing the gathering.


Phil Campbells from around the country, and around the world, are converging this week on the tiny town of Phil Campbell in northwest Alabama. The town was devastated by a massive tornado in April. Twenty-seven people were killed and about half the town was flattened.

Well, this weekend, what had been planned before the tornado as a festive International Phil Campbell Convention, will instead be turned into a rebuilding and relief effort with lots of Phil Campbells traveling there to help out.

I'm joined now by the organizer of that I'm With Phil gathering, Phil Campbell of Brooklyn, New York, who is in Phil Campbell. Phil, welcome to the program.

Mr. PHIL CAMPBELL (Organizer, I' Thank you so much. Thank you for having me.

BLOCK: And we're also joined by the Mayor of Phil Campbell, Alabama, Jerry Mays, who was also on this program about a month ago. Mayor Mays, welcome back.

Mayor JERRY MAYS (Phil Campbell, Alabama): Oh, thank you very much. I appreciate it very much, Melissa.

BLOCK: And, Phil Campbell, let me start with you. How many Phil Campbells are coming there to Phil Campbell?

Mr. CAMPBELL: We've got 18 Phil Campbell's from all over the world, Alaska to Australia. We've got three Australians, two Scots, an Englishman, and then a number of Americans.

BLOCK: Wow. And you some variations on the named Phil? Do you have some Phyllises or Felipes, anything like that?

Mr. CAMPBELL: Yeah, we try to get some Phyllises but the ones who were the most excited about it had some health problems, unfortunately. But yeah, it's like we're the solid Phils and Phillips with one L and two L's. But a lot of folks have given money and helped out in other ways over our Internet organizing.

BLOCK: Mayor Mays, you have a lot of Phil Campbells there in your town this weekend. What are they going to be doing?

Mayor MAYS: Well, first of all, the Phil Campbells, we appreciate all of them coming down and we want all of them to feel at home, and that this is your hometown and you're welcome here. And we greet you with a Southern hospitality.

But they have done something more than that. They turned it into an international benefit to help the citizens of Phil Campbell. They're working through the state chapter of Habitat for Humanity. I mean, when I talked to you before, Melissa, I told you about we had people with three children living in tents and using the Port-a-Potty across the railroad track. We've improved a little since then.

And these Phil Campbells coming to Phil Campbell are going to put some people into some Habitat For Humanity housing.

BLOCK: Now, Phil Campbell, you have been to Phil Campbell in happier times. You organized a convention of Phil Campbells there before. What was your reaction when you first saw the town after the tornado?

Mr. CAMPBELL: Well, this is my first time in Phil Campbell in 16 years, but I got a tour almost immediately of the damage. A lot of the houses have been -were destroyed have been cleared off. FEMA's helped remove a lot of destruction.

But still, just incredibly, it's hard to just understand it. It's like looking at ground zero like a week later, without having seen the news and being told that there was a building there. This is like a 12-mile path of just chaos and destruction. And it's - I really haven't wrapped my head around it yet, to be honest.

BLOCK: Mayor Mays, when we talked on the program last month, you told me that you were worried about people leaving Phil Campbell and never coming back. Is that still a real worry for you?

Mayor MAYS: It is. It's a real worry for me. That's the reason I'm working so closely with FEMA to get this debris removed as soon as possible and to try to put back the beautiful landscape that we always had here, to try to rebuild, to try to regenerate. We're going to be better than we were before. Let's just all stick together and we'll work this thing out together.

BLOCK: I've read that the town of Phil Campbell was named for a 19th-century railroad engineer who worked there, set up a work camp. And I wonder if the fact that that is your name, the name of the town, has become a kind of salvation, in a way, it's really given people something to coalesce around, Mayor Mays?

Mayor MAYS: Yes, absolutely, absolutely. There's not very many towns in the United States that's named after the first and last name of a person.

BLOCK: So, because that's your name, you have a steady supply of Phil Campbells around the world that you might be able to turn to.

Mayor MAYS: Very true and fortunately so.

Mr. CAMPBELL: I really like that history myself. I think it says - it sort of puts us into a tradition of sorts because when I first visited Phil Campbell, Alabama, for the first time in 1994, I was shown a file folder by the city clerk of all the Phil Campbells who have come through town.

BLOCK: Oh, really?

Mr. CAMPBELL: And to sort of know - and that was actually, at that moment, I decided I was going to bring back all the Phil Campbells because I just loved that idea so much of Phil Campbells coming through.

And so, it feels to me that the Phil Campbell, Alabama, is always a home away from home for folks named Phil Campbell, and I really love that idea.

BLOCK: Well, Phil Campbell and Mayor Mays, thanks for talking to us and enjoy the weekend as best you can.

Mayor MAYS: Thank you so much.

Mr. CAMPBELL: Thank you.

BLOCK: That's Mayor Jerry Mays of Phil Campbell, Alabama, and Phil Campbell of Brooklyn, New York, who's organizing the Phil Campbell Convention and Relief Effort in Phil Campbell this weekend.

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