United Methodist Committee on Relief

'Lives Were Changed Forever' in Alabama

An Early Response Team from South Carolina pitches in to help during Alabama‚Äôs tornado recovery. An Early Response Team from South Carolina pitches in to help during Alabama’s tornado recovery.

By Susan Kim*

July 8, 2014—Nancy Cole vividly remembers April 27, 2011, the day that 62 tornadoes ripped through Alabama, leaving a path of death and destruction that is still difficult to comprehend more than three years later.

The paths of the storms measured 1,177 miles long and 20 miles wide. More than 23,000 homes were destroyed or damaged. The state estimated the damages at $1.1 billion, and residents and responders cleaned up some 10 million cubic yards of debris.

“Those numbers are mind-boggling,” said Cole, who helped direct recovery for the North Alabama Conference, “but the most devastating number of all is 250. We lost 250 souls that day. The cost of those lives cannot be measured. Thousands of people were injured and thousands of lives were changed forever.”

A New Normal – But New Storms As Well

Long-term recovery is complete from the 2011 storms in Alabama. The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) contributed more than $2.1 million toward the effort, and more than 300 volunteer teams from other states came to help, in addition to hundreds of local teams that also pitched in. Cole estimates volunteer teams worked 143,000 hours, which translates into more than $3.1 million in-kind.

Even as some Alabama communities celebrate a “new normal” in the wake of the 2011 storms, UMCOR—through grants and training—is supporting recovery from new tornadoes that hit the same region two months ago.

“With staff already in place who have experience from the 2011 storms, UMCOR's support will go even further in the current recovery, which is only just beginning,” said Greg Forrester, UMCOR's assistant general secretary for U.S. Disaster Response.

'It's Easy to Forget'

Responders in Alabama said they want to send the message that recovery takes longer than people realize. “You would think, okay, someone's home is destroyed, so let's just go and build a new home. It doesn't work that quickly. Three years later, we are still building,” said Lori Feist, assistant disaster recovery coordinator for the North Alabama Conference.

If you live outside the path of a tornado, it's easy to forget there has been a disaster, she added. “Unless you're involved, you don't realize.”

Volunteers who help with recovery from this year's storms will have an opportunity to learn what long-term recovery looks like, said Feist. “I look forward to talking to the teams that come in, and talking to the survivors and hearing their stories. I tell people I have the best job ever.”

For information on United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM), contact your conference or jurisdictional UMVIM coordinator. Volunteers can also consult A Mission Journey: A Handbook for Volunteers.

In Alabama, residents are only just beginning their long-term recovery from this year's storms. Please help tornado survivors by giving to UMCOR U.S. Disaster Response, Advance #901670.

*Susan Kim is a journalist and a regular contributor to

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In Alabama, residents are only just beginning their long-term recovery from this year's storms. Please help tornado survivors by giving to UMCOR U.S. Disaster Response, Advance #901670.