No, not the game kind of Twister. The bad kind. Recently our Stake participated in cleanup efforts in northern Alabama after a series of devastating tornados swept through the area. For those who don't live in the South or Mid-West, it may be hard for you to relate to what tornados can do. Pictures can tell part of the tale, but you really have to experience it to get a sense of the unstoppable power Mother Nature can unleash. It was, well - humbling. Frightening. Revealing.
Our Stake concentrated on smaller communities that had not recieved as much attention or help as larger areas like Tuscloosa. So we worked at a few sites in small towns north of Birmingham. In all there were probably 200 of us from our Stake. After meeing in a central spot and getting our official "Mormon Helping Hands" yellow t-shirts we split up into groups and headed out to make a dent in the mess. And a mess is really not adequate to describe the scene. Utter devastation is probably more accurate.
We worked in teams of 15 to 20. One person would go door to door asking homwowners if they would like some assistance from the Church and getting them to sign waiver forms (legal necessity). Then a team would go in and start doing whatever needed to be done. Chain saws were a necessity, as there were shattered and twisted trees everywhere. We cut the trees up into smaller pieces and separated and stacked it as firewood or organized limbs and twigs into brush piles for burning. Trash and debris were separated from salvageable household items and stacked beside the street for later pickup and removal by heavy trucks. We even had our own backhoe to help with the heavy stuff. It was hot, muggy, dirty and tiring, but also rewarding to perform this service for those poor people. Many were still in shock - sifting through what was left of their homes trying to save a few personal items. Tears flowed freely as we heard their stories of faith, survival and tragedy. For others, there were no personal items left to save. One family had two massive oak trees fall directly on their house and literally crushed it to the ground. Rather than try to clean up, they decided to just burn the whole thing. The fire department came to manage the burning of the home, after they had rescued the few personal items they could find. Other homes were cleared of belongings so wrecking crews from the county could come in and demolish what was left and haul it to the dump. Then there were the areas where people had died. Most of those were roped off and officals were there combing through things, but one I saw up close was particularly chilling. It had been a large, beautiful home on the banks of a river, with a large yard like a pasture. Now there was nothing left but a concrete foundation and part of a stone fireplace. The full force and fury of one of the largest tornados had touched down right on that house, and it had literally vaccuumed it and its occupants into oblivion. There wasn't even a scrap of wood left in the yard. Not a twig. It was eerie.
All I can say is that participating in the cleanup project has made me a more grateful person. Grateful that I have not had a tornado hit my home; grateful I'm alive and healthy; grateful for loving family and friends; grateful I was able to help someone who really needed the help, and grateful - truly grateful - to be a member of the Church. I must say this is the first time I have been in a Helping Hands crew, and it was awesome! The Church is so organized an efficient with this kind of thing, and we saw yellow Helping Hands t-shirts everywhere we went. It was impressive. In all, I think the Church members from our Stake put in something like 3000 man hours of work that weekend. Time well spent. Time well spent...