Community leaders work on long-term Lee County recovery plan

BEAUREGARD, Ala. - Sunday marked three weeks since four tornadoes touched down in South Alabama, two in Lee County. The storms killed 23 people and destroyed more than 200 homes. It was the deadliest outbreak to hit Alabama in several years and the strongest to hit that area in decades. As soon as the clouds parted, as is always the case, neighbors started helping neighbors and aid began pouring into the communities slammed.

Churches set up distribution centers. Residents opened their homes to folks in need of shelter. And people began donating to tornado relief efforts. WHNT News 19's parent company is Tribune Media, and its charitable foundation made a $25,000 donation to the Community Foundation of East Alabama.

Tornadoes can tear a community apart, but they can also bring people together. That's exactly what is happening in this community. Amid the destruction, there are several signs of hope and there are so many people who want to reach out and help.

"It sounds like you were standing six inches from the railroad tracks and you had five engines couple together coming by," said David Kelley. He remembers taking cover in the bathtub with his son when the first tornado hit.

His home is the only one on his side of the street that survived the storm.

"It picked the house up and set the house back down," he remembered.

His home is no longer level on its foundation. In addition to that, he needs to make several other repairs, but his claim has been denied by FEMA.

"We're insured but we're underinsured," he explained.

That's where the Community Foundation of East Alabama can help. WHNT News 19 general manager Stan Pylant presented a check from the Tribune Media Charitable Foundation.

"We'd like to present the Community Foundation of East Alabama with a check for $25,000. We hope this helps with the recovery efforts here," he said during a check presentation.

This community fund will be part of the long term relief plan.

"So, these funds will be the unmet need funds that help people rebuild their homes, rebuild whatever they need for, to kind of make their lives whole again," said Barbara Patton the executive director of the Community Foundation of East Alabama.

She said they want to ensure the way the funds are dispersed is fair to everybody.

"It's a process, and we want to make sure we follow the process and do it systematically so it's fair to everybody," she explained.

She says community leaders met Monday to set up a long-term recovery committee.

"So, we will be working with United Way, Red Cross, emergency management, the hospital, EAMC, that's our hospital," she said. "And we will be part of that long-term recovery committee and put together bylaws and ways to operate and so that the, probably a form, that people can fill in and we'll help them go through 'what have you gotten, what do you need?'"

The money from this organization goes straight into the Alabama communities devastated by the March 3 tornadoes. But it may not be dispersed for two or three years. Patton recommends that people affected by the tornadoes apply for aid from FEMA and SBA loans. She said to file an appeal if someone is denied aid from FEMA, and FEMA has already granted over $800,000 in grants to people in the community.

Volunteers Come From Far And Wide

There is a long road of recovery ahead. There are a lot of people in Beauregard who are working to help and its not just people from Alabama. Folks from across the country have traveled to be part of the cleanup effort.

People who live in Beauregard say they don't think their community will ever be the same.  22 days after the tornado there is still a large amount of debris. It serves as a stark reminder of the violent storm that rolled through the area.

People from as far away as Alaska feel compelled to travel to Lee County to help. A mother and daughter from Louisiana drove 10 hours to lend a hand. They survived Hurricane Rita in 2005 and know what it's like to have their home town destroyed in a natural disaster.

"We helped in our area and we want to do the same, we just want to be here to help. Whatever needs to be done," Frances Bumgarden said.

Her daughter Lisa Brown stood by her side.

"Whether it's picking up trash, or you know, cooking, or handing out food, water, it doesn't matter," Lisa Brown added.

The mother-daughter duo is working with the nonprofit 8 Days of Hope.

If you want to volunteer to help with this clean-up effort you can do that. Lee County emergency officials are asking you to register at one of the multiple volunteer reception centers in the area.

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