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The Renamification of Big Gerhl Dean, or, The Hectic Lives of Cedar 4

April 8, 2012

Since I last posted, we’ve been DEPLOYED. During the whirlwind weekend following the last post, we had a full day of work at the Clinton County Conservation, drove back to Vinton, celebrated our reunion with Cedar 3, were briefed on our new project, cleaned out the van, packed, worked on our portfolio for our now-completed Jackson County spike, and drove nine hours to Louisville.

Since then, I feel like I’ve been moving non-stop. Which explains the pause since my last post.

On our first Monday here we didn’t have much in the way of orientation — just endured the long drive, checked into our hotel (three bunk beds and six girls in one bedroom and we haven’t killed each other yet! Though I almost got Allison by accident at one point. We’ll get to that later), and had dinner with Adam, who was staying at the same hotel and was down from Pennsylvania to also help with disaster relief.

Tuesday was orientation — or, more accurately, “orientation.” We split into groups to start working at different locations. I went to the Henryville Community Church with Joe and Cassy. With Henryville being one of the towns that the tornado had ripped right through, we were headed closest to the heart of the disaster.

Our introduction to the process was attempting to shadow the Jennifers — two women, both named Jennifer, who were running the entire operation out of the church. One of them lived in a home that was completely leveled a few streets away from the church and was leaving for a trip to Alaska in two days. The other was originally from a nearby down and simply decided to start volunteering from day one.

I don’t think it’s possible to overstate how much was going on. We tried to shadow them, but they were constantly in motion. Hundreds of volunteers walked through the door throughout the day in groups of 20, five, two, even individuals. Many had chainsaws with them to help clear out the debris, something I hadn’t even thought of as a necessity for disaster clean-up (as it turns out, it is definitely a necessity). Homeowners were in and out, in need of clothes, non-perishable foods, gas money, cars, a home, a roof, a tarp, a group to help clean shards of broken glass and scattered photographs from their yards. FEMA workers came by looking for homeowners and trying to get questions answered. It seemed like orientation would need to last at least that entire week before we’d be able to take charge.

The next day we came in and were told we would be running the place.

Somehow, it wasn’t a mess. I spent the entire day in a frenzy, but by the end of the week I knew many homeowners by name and voice after calling them on the phone so many times. I was able to greet and process volunteers, and I knew what questions to ask them — “Do you have a chainsaw? Do you have work gloves? Do you have any construction skills?” — I knew where to take notes so we could keep track of who was out in the field. The more people asked me questions that I didn’t know the answer to, the more I was determined to find out so I could help. Within a few days, I actually did know the answers to many of those questions. Downtime was non-existent and lunch was (and is) eaten two bites at a time whenever I could manage between answering the phone and helping someone else. By the end of the day I was exhausted and fell (or fall) asleep in the van on the way home on a daily basis, but it felt like I got a lot done.

One morning, Jennifer took me around to look at some of the damage. We visited the warehouse and spoke with some homeowners who were living under a tarped roof that still had holes in it but had not come by the church. She pointed out where the gas station, a number of homes and Mt. Mariah church had been, where there was now nothing. Maybe a pile of debris, but otherwise nothing.

When Metro United Way moved their center of operations into the church earlier this week, it felt like we went close to back to square one. The process of deploying volunteers and working with homeowners was (and still is being) revamped nearly completely. With one Jennifer still in Alaska and United trying to take some of the overwhelming tasks away from the Jennifer who was still around, the hectic atmosphere has not ended.

Down time has been minimal and I get one day off a week on Tuesday.  Our work days last at least 10 hours, and if anything I’ve only upped my caffeine intake. I feel like it’ll be fulfilling looking back, but it’s hard to express that feeling while being in the midst of it. Homeowners are always so thankful when they come by the church, but I still feel like I wish I could do more. Some of them are still so obviously completely devastated. Others are so happy just to be grateful with the fact that they’re alive. Everyone affected was just another person going about their daily lives until this hit. Other than knowing they lived in a tornado-prone area, nothing was unusual or absurd about their lives. Then tragedy comes by all of a sudden, and everything is broken.

We were told the emotional toll would be more harsh than the physical one, and so far that’s been right. I don’t feel burnt out yet, and part of the reason is knowing that after my team leaves, people who live there will still be going through this every day. And they are so, so strong.

Side Story: I almost killed allison but didn’t. The above bunk beds are not quite built in a manner in which they stay together. Luckily she was not lying on the bed when I tried to climb up and it broke. Yay!


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  1. Justin Jacoby Smith permalink

    what a rude tat

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  1. Life is Music May 21, 2013 edition: Oklahoma City tornado recovery resources | rudietuesdays

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