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Welcome to Michael's blog. Michael Andrew, (aka Michael The Maven) is a freelance producer, photography instructor, tech innovator, and when needed, disaster aid specialist. Disclaimer: Michael is a participant in Bhphoto & Amazon affiliate programs that provides an advertising commission if you purchase through links on this website.


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05.01.11         michael's insights  

Alabama Disaster Cleanup


Having lived in Tuscaloosa for 9 years, I know the area well and have many friends there. I've been getting a lot of emails and FB messages about whether or not I was going to Alabama to help with the disaster effort and the short answer is: Probably not.

There are several reasons- but the biggest are these:

1. I am still a little wiped out in many ways from Japan.
2. From what I am seeing and hearing there is a good deal of volunteers already there and even more heading in. Gratefully, there are a lot of people who live there that are stepping up.
3. I cannot think of an effective way to apply the GPS tagging system in Alabama.
4. I am still missing skill sets I need to be able to do things I want to in these situations, namely: SAR, First Aid and Motorcycle training.

That said, I feel that there are a lot of needs and tremendous opportunities for service and to learn about disasters by going to Alabama. It sounds like anyone who can use a chainsaw is needed right now. I speak with several of my close friends who live there and are familiar with what I've been doing with aid work, and they have suggested that the situation is for the most part under control. I also asked them about gas stations:

Gas Stations are tremendous indicators of what is happening with the aid effort for many reasons: Gas determines if people can move.
If a gas station is shut down, or the line is 2 miles long, for more than 1-2 days, its a pretty good sign that the situation is serious because:

1. Fuel is not getting in, this could be a supply or infrastructure issue. If Fuel is not getting in, it means other types of aid are not getting in (Like food and water)
2. People are not able to move, evacuate, help others, purchase supplies. Etc.

If an area has no power, no water, and no gasoline for more than a few days- there are some real problems brewing. You will find starving people in these situations.
If an area has no power, no water, but there is gasoline available, then usually people will be able to move and get whatever it is they need.

Another point one of my friends made was about the type of destruction; while there was great destruction in the path of the tornadoes, there are a lot of places that had relative little or no damage at all.

Here is the report I got from Thad Forester today:

Many people volunteering for tree removal, food, water, clothing, etc.  The police and national guard have checkpoints all over to prevent just anybody from coming thru.  They are looking for volunteer tags, permits, or equipment. The group I was with today made great progress clearing trees from a road.  I was approached by several people offering water and food.  It was touching.  People were driving up and down the streets on golf carts, 4-wheelers, etc offering these things.  I also saw a clothing station. 
 
So, from where I was in Alberta City, it looked organized and like progress is being made—very little at a time.  I do not know about other areas just down the road from there, or across the state.  I’m afraid some of the rural areas are being overlooked, but I don’t know for sure. I tried to get ahold of some of the church members who were working the east side of Alberta City to see if they were being offered water and food as much as I was on the west side, but couldn’t get ahold of them.  I hope that people are focusing on Alberta b/c it’s a poorer area and are forgetting about the other areas.  Once again, I don’t know if this is happening or not. 
 
I think the mayor is doing a fine job of leadership.  It was touching today to see so many people helping and offering help.  And to see a fire truck drive down the road with an American Flag waving behind it. Mike, it’s complete devastation here.  I am blown away each time I look at the areas in person and on tv.  I think the people are resilient, for the most part, and are mostly concentrating right now on recovering their things and finding somewhere to live.  Traffic is still a problem.  The gas stations seem very manageable now—I didn’t wait in line today in Northport.  Wal mart has a lot of water. 
 
Remember this is just my opinion.  I have worked independently one day, and with groups for two days.  I have worked in Tuscaloosa, Alberta City, and in Coaling.  Parts of north Ala are very bad too, but I haven’t been there. 


I absolutely LOVED to hear about so many people stepping up. That is something that is just awesome! Everyday people seeing a need and filling it. We need more people like this…everywhere!

I want to be in a position to help whenever I possibly can and as of today I am not there. I have to pick and choose my fights so to speak. Doing this self funded has really stretched me out- wait till you hear the story I will tell you about my ATT phone bill from Japan. That said, I am doing a lot of things behind the scenes to get ready for the next one- this includes gear, setting up an aid organization (I have picked a name already and will announce it once the paperwork is submitted) and getting signed up for more training. Waiting to hear back from the SAR team here in Hawaii as I have applied to train with them.

I will continue to monitor the Alabama situation as much as I can through news reports, but more importantly from friends that are there.

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