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A majority-black town ravaged by a hailstorm on March 26 desperately needs help after more than 400 homes were damaged.

Nearly six weeks after the devastation, the Federal Emergency Management Agency made assistance available, but it’s not the type of assistance that will help residents with their cleanup efforts. 

Camp Hill, a town located in Tallapoosa County with a population of around 1,000 citizens, was ransacked by softball to grapefruit-sized hail for some 20 minutes. 

More than a month after the storm, tarps are still being placed on homes that received damage. 

Friday’s disaster declaration only makes funds available for state, tribal, local governments, and nonprofits dealing with cost-sharing for emergency work and replacement of facilities that were damaged by the storms. 

Organizers are still working to get a disaster declaration for individual assistance.

Warren Tidwell, executive director of Alabama Center for Rural Organizing and Systemic Solutions, (ACROSS), said there are more than 400 homes that are in need of roof repair. Another issue community members are facing is that some 80 to 90 percent of the community’s cars were totaled. 

This is a town that doesn’t have a grocery store, doesn’t have a laundromat, and doesn’t have a pharmacy. Like many Southern towns it has a Dollar General, but it’s a mile away across a major highway,” Tidwell said. “So even walking there is hazardous, and with the population with elderly folks and disabled folks we have, it’s just not realistic.

The town of Camp Hill has declared a state of emergency and the Tallapoosa County EMA has submitted an application for disaster declaration. 

Alabama Values reached out to Governor Kay Ivey’s office who referred staff to Alabama EMA, but officials there have not responded with any updates despite being instructed by the Governor’s office to do so.

We also reached out to FEMA who said, “Alabama Emergency Management Agency is best suited to answer your questions.” From the outside, some homes look undamaged, but inside there are major leaks, roof damage, and many are sleeping in one room of their homes. 

Tidwell said that if there was a category for hailstorms, the one that struck Camp Hill would be a category 5. 

Camp Hill resident Rosalie Bundy said she was asleep in her home in Camp Hill when the storm rolled through the town. 

It just sounded like someone throwing big rocks against the wall to me,” she said. “I got up and got dressed and went to the foot of the bed. I got dressed because I said, ‘They might have to take me out of here.’

 

When the storm subsided, Bundy said she looked out and found that her windows were broken. Camp Hill resident Tywanda Greer said that her family of four is having to sleep on the couch. “They donated food and the Red Cross gave us a donation,” she said. “I’ve been trying to get them to come out and redo my roof, but they said they couldn’t do it at the time because I didn’t have the money.” She said Tidwell is working to help her get her roof fixed. Resident Red Walton’s ceiling fell through from the weight of the water. “A day later, when sheetrock gets wet it just gets heavier,” he said. “I was sitting in the chair watching ‘Gunsmoke’ and ‘Laramie’ and there was a noise.”Walton said he went to check on the noise and the whole ceiling had fallen. Resident Jessie Francis said he’s never seen anything like the hailstorm.

“Everybody was affected by it,” he said. “It’s real hard, it’s already a little poor town. It’s so limited with jobs. It’s hard for the people. It was just tragic.”

Fire Chief Josh Darling said he was on an ambulance call in the town next door and was told to stand by and wait. “It was a short period of time, but it was a long time,” he said. “You could tell it had rained, but it wasn’t until I received a phone call at 4 a.m., to come to the fire station that had been ruined in the hailstorm.”

Organizers and the city have a volunteer relief headquarters set up where they are keeping track of requests. They had 223 requests, but without volunteers and help, they had to change the way they used a system to meet the needs of the residents. Volunteer firefighters have been working to tarp houses. 

“We are basing everything on donations and the generosity of people’s hearts to come in and help,” Darling said.

“A (disaster) declaration changes the ballgame,” Tidwell said the town’s new storm shelter which they have been working to get opened for years opened the day before the storm. “It’s extremely important that we have this,” he said. 

Tidwell said that the natural disaster has opened the eyes of a predominately white working class fire department who are seeing the realizations of systemic racism and how it impacts majority black communities.

“To hear these people who traditionally would not have necessarily seen it that way, it’s been something to see,” he said. “This has been one of the few silver linings.”  

Studies have shown that natural disasters disproportionately impact black communities. 

A recent study from Florida State University found black and brown participants experienced a multitude of mental health issues, including significant feelings of fear, loss and hopelessness, while also exhibiting distrust in systems designed to provide relief after natural disasters. 

Residents feel they have been forgotten. 

“I feel it has been forgotten, I think they never knew,” Busby said.  Francis said he felt that people don’t care about his town because it is so small.

“I think it’s been forgotten about. We need everything, food, transportation, and money because everybody’s got to be out of work,” he said. It’s really hard to see that nobody’s trying to help. How can people be so cold-hearted when people are in need. They just overlook us. Don’t just say it. Be about it. Put out a helping hand. We are human like everyone else.” 

Those who wish to help should contact Tidwell at 334-663-5472.  Volunteers can also report to the volunteer resource center set up in town at 41 Heard St. in Camp Hill.

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