After the Storm: A News Producer's Experience in Ider, Alabama
IDER, ALABAMA (WRCB)- As a news producer, I spend most days inside the Channel 3 studios. Friday, however, I decided to take a trip to one of the areas, hardest hit by the April 27th tornado outbreak—a small town in DeKalb County, Alabama, called Ider. Ider bore the brunt of an EF4 tornado, and seeing the damage first-hand is heartbreaking.
When I first arrived in Ider, I was in utter shock. Driving in, I passed what used to be two homes. Nothing stands there now, except for a pop-up camper on each property. The people, sitting in lawn chairs outside, guarding what's left of their homes.
I stopped first at the Ider volunteer fire department. The fire department is serving as a make-shift disaster command center. There, folks can leave donations of any kind, and volunteers will make sure the people who need it most can get it. There I met the fire chief, Ray Williams. He told me that people in this small town, and in a couple of neighboring towns, won't leave their property, although there is nothing left. Some are living under tarps, others in tents, because they're so afraid if the leave, looters will come and steal the only belongings they have left. Many have signs up that read, "You loot, we shoot," and Williams says they mean it. He told me it's already happened in one town nearby.
Williams and a team of volunteers get into their vehicles daily and head out with water, food and supplies, to make sure people who won't leave their homes get what they need. He told me some are so proud they won't take the donations. Others only take the bare minimum, wanting to make sure there's enough to go around. The Ider fire department is also working with the Cartersville volunteer fire department. That town was also hit hard, so any donations that cannot be used in Ider, are taken to Cartersville to help take care of their neighbors.
Out on a drive
After my visit at the fire department, I headed to Ider Town Hall, where I met with Mayor Mike Flynn. Flynn was kind enough to drive me around, and show me some of the destruction. In the path of the tornado, homes were destroyed. For some, the foundation is the only thing that still stands. During our drive, I met a man named Frank Taylor. His arm was in a sling, and he had a bandage on one leg. He told me that his entire family huddled into a bathroom in the middle of the house. That house was wiped clean off the foundation. He told me the walls collapsed, and he and his family had to be rescued from the rubble. He suffered a dislocated shoulder and a couple of cracked ribs, but he says they all survived, "By the grace of God."
I met some other people, as they worked to clean up a yard. The workers told me a trailer used to stand in the empty lot. In that trailer on the day of the storms—a mother, father, and their two children. When the storm approached, they left the trailer, and went into an outbuilding. There, the father covered up his family with a mattress and laid on top of it to protect them. The tornado took out everything in its path, including that outbuilding, but somehow, that family survived. I was told that father held onto one of his children so tight to prevent the tornado from taking her, that her wrist broke.
As in every place where tornadoes struck on April 27th, there are many stories of survival. Towards the end of our drive, Mayor Flynn took me to where his family rode out the storm. His parents, sister, and brother all lost homes. His parents rode out the storm under the stairwell in their two-story home. Those stairs are gone now, but the couple survived with only a few cuts and bruises. Mayor Flynn told me he tried several different ways to get to his parents after the storm to check on them, but every path was blocked by trees and debris. He was relieved when he finally reached them and found out they were alright.
Friday, volunteers were out helping folks in the community clean up their yards. We ran into a group from Huntsville Hospital, going from yard-to-yard, helping clean up any way they could. The Red Cross had been in town for three days with a mobile unit. They were also going yard-to-yard, making sure people had what they need.
There were moments during our drive where I was left speechless. Video and pictures don't do it justice. You have to see it with your own eyes. The mayor told me two people died in Ider from the storm. Seeing the damage first hand, it's amazing that number wasn't much higher.
Mayor Flynn says he's in talks with the Emergency Management Agency to put a large storm shelter in town for everyone to use. He also says they hope to get two tornado sirens installed in town, hopefully before the next disaster strikes.
What you need to know:
For people cleaning up after the storm, Mayor Flynn told me emergency workers will be picking up debris in Ider for the next 30 days. The debris must be moved to the side of the road for pickup. He says make sure like items are together in piles. For example, trees in one pile, appliances in another, etc…