By: Vickie U. Alleman, Director of Catholic Social Services of Dothan, AL
The floods which devastated much of Southeast Alabama the end of December and first weeks of January ruined Christmas for many. While the celebration of Christ’s birth remained in everyone’s heart, the physical reality of their lost homes and belongings weighed heavily on everyone. Once the rains which had pushed the rivers to overflowing stopped, the waters had receded to some degree, and the roads cleared enough to get emergency vehicles through, an evaluation could be made as to the extent of the damage.
As soon as we were able to move safely through the areas Catholic Social Services in Dothan spent time traveling throughout Houston, Coffee, and Geneva Counties talking with the Emergency Management Agency officials in each county, checking in with local agencies such as Human Resource Development Corporation, Southeast Alabama Regional Council on Aging, the local Police and Sheriff departments, City Hall, and various Churches to determine the needs in those Counties. Thankfully none of the towns proper were directly effected by the flooding, but areas outside of town along the river and in low-lying areas had homes to collapse and others to be filled with water. Families lost their belongings to varying degrees; many were able to salvage much of their belongings, but needed clean-up materials.
Columbia was the worst hit in Houston County, but Gordon and areas outside of Ashford were also effected. As needs were brought to our attention we did our best to address each one. We purchased food from the Wiregrass Area Food Bank for groups to cook and serve to volunteers and local families and to give out to replenish some of what families had lost. We purchased cleaning supplies, hygiene items, detergents, paper goods, water, and other items from the local grocery stores such as Piggly Wiggly for distribution to families in Houston and Coffee Counties.
After working our way through Houston and Geneva Counties, we spent time in Elba and the surrounding areas in Coffee County. With the dams and huge flood gates the Army Corp of engineers built after the 1998 floods the town proper was not flooded, so the damage was directly along the river outside of town.
When we arrived in Elba we were directed to the Church of Christ which had been set-up as a staging area for assistance. All local and federal support agencies and churches were working closely together to ensure anyone who had a need was met with and helped. We spoke with Red Cross, EMA, Sheriff, and Police department officials, the Church of Christ, and various other organizations and local Churches who were meeting with residents and assessing needs.
Unlike when our agency was part of the disaster response with the 2007 tornado damage in Enterprise, we determined Catholic Social Services did not need to set up an area for us to directly interview the residents. We determined it would work best for us to meet with the groups already there and provide our assistance based on their knowledge of the area and on the needs assessments they were already in the process of doing. In this way we were able to move among the agencies and assist with any needs that were given to us that day, and then let everyone know to call our office in the future so we could work by fax and phone to assist with whatever additional needs they found in the coming days and weeks.
Within the three counties Catholic Social Services was able to pay for food items from the Wiregrass Area Food Bank. We were able to pay for an electric bill for an elderly woman who was housebound so that she could use her funds toward repairs and other things. We extended hotel stays for several people who had been put up at the local hotel in Elba due to health issues. When we left we knew those providing assistance would continue to call us as they found additional needs, and after FEMA came in to complete their review. We began receiving calls the next day, and as agreed, we discussed the situations they needed help with, sometimes spoke to the individuals to gather more information, and then we assisted with the situations as best we could. This is something we will continue to do for all three Counties as long as we continue to receive referrals.
Overall, we were able to purchase right at 5,745 pounds of food from the Wiregrass Food Bank and the Piggly Wiggly Grocery Store in Columbia to distribute throughout Houston County and the Elba area. We partnered with individuals from the Columbia Town Hall, the Mayor’s office in Columbia, the local Police Departments, Mercy Outreach Mission in Ashford, and the Church of Christ in Elba for delivery.
Besides food and utilities we were asked to provide rooms for 5 individuals and families at the Riviera Motel in Elba. They were referred to us by the Church of Christ and Red Cross in Elba because they had health problems or very young children and were unable to stay in the local shelter which was set-up in the gymnasium. We were not asked to provide lodging for anyone in Geneva or Houston County. At last count, Houston County had reported 24 homes were effected by the floods; in Geneva County a total of 14 homes; and in Coffee County 187 homes were effected. Some homes were damaged, others were completely destroyed.
As we walked around talking with people, hearing their stories of loss, and meeting with organizations to discuss what we could do to help, we were overwhelmed by the saddest story of all.
A car with 6 people was swept off of Hwy. 107 on December 27. Four of those inside escaped and were found immediately, but a 22-year-old young man and a 5-year-old child were not found in time and drowned. We ask everyone reading this to keep all of the flood victims in your prayers. And we especially ask you to pray for the souls of the two young people who died in this terrible tragedy, and to pray that their families find healing and comfort in God and in their faith. Finally, we offer these thoughts, “O loving Father and Savior, send your angels to carry the souls of your servants from this earth to the heavenly place of eternal and everlasting life. Let family and friends who have passed before in faith be reunited in joy with the departed, forgive any wrongs, and welcome these beloved spirits into the warm embrace of your unending peace“.
May the spirit of God’s presence be with each of us as we journey through life, and keep us and our loved one’s safe.
*Photos submitted by Dewayne, a volunteer who worked with the flood disaster through City Hall in Columbia, AL.