After driving down to Alabama and processing our footage from Joplin we are back out shooting interviews.
In late April of last year a massive series of tornadoes hit the United States and one of the communities most affected was the town of Phil Campbell, AL. The tornado that hit Phil Campbell was a 130 mile long EF5. In the year since it was hit the population has dropped from just over 1,000 to just over 800.
Our first interview in Phil Campbell was with Barry Pounder, the emergency rescue team coordinator and a teacher at Northwest-Shoals Community College. Barry stressed the importance of regular interdepartmental table top drills in preparing a city for disaster response. After their experiences in the days after the tornado Phil Campbell’s Emergency Services are installing backup sources of power and Ham radios.
Barry suggested we head over to the site of the New Mountain View Baptist Church and introduced us to the pastor Brother Sammy Taylor. Sammy’s church was completely destroyed in the storm and after months of meeting in large trailers they were finally starting construction on a new building. Volunteers from Baptist communities around the nation are coming in and helping with the construction.
One of the volunteers we interviewed was Randy Bolton, he has been with the Baptist Builders for over a decade spending a week each summer helping communities around the nation build new churches.
After lunch we met with Police Chief Merrell Potter at the Phil Campbell Community Storm Shelter. While the area around the shelter was devastated the shelter itself remained entirely intact. The town was so satisfied with its performance that they had the manufacturer construct 3 smaller shelters by the high school. Chief Potter explained how the destruction of the communications infrastructure complicates the rescue operations in the days immediately following a disaster as devastating as an EF5.
Our last interview in Phil Campbell for the day was with Bart Moss. Bart is a high school teacher who created a website to help provide accurate information about relief work and fatalities. He said that running a site like that is a serious commitment that will take up multiple hours a day for the first few months. The two largest employers in Phil Campbell are the high school and the community college. Bart is worried about what might happen to the town’s population if it can’t find the money to rebuild the high school in the near future.
After talking with Bart with collected some footage of the damage done to the high school. The whiteboards still have homework assignments written on them from the day the tornado hit.
We left Phil Campbell to meet Browan Lollar in Florence, AL. Browan is a professional musician and artist who shared his experience with the influence of disasters on southern music.