Editor’s Note: Dianna Hill is a producer for HLN’s Morning Express with Robin Meade. She spent the week of May 6th through May 13th on a volunteer project to rebuild an Alabama home destroyed by a tornado.
On April 27, 2011, Denise Pruitt was out of town when a devastating tornado tore through Pleasant Grove, Alabama. It destroyed her home, but her family survived and for that, she was grateful. Across the Southeast, more than 300 people were killed in the same outbreak of storms.
Less than a month later, an EF-5 tornado cut a 12-mile path of destruction through Joplin, Missouri. It was the single deadliest U.S. tornado since modern record-keeping began, killing 142 people.
Almost one year later, just as news organizations were preparing to check in on the rebuilding process in Alabama and Missouri, more tornados hit. This time, the damage stretched across 10 states in the Midwest and the Plains.
With each new disaster, our attention naturally turned to the urgent needs of the people affected by the most recent devastation. But people like Denise Pruitt and her husband Mark were left behind wondering how they would rebuild their lives and their communities. Recently, I had the opportunity to volunteer with an organization that’s committed to helping families like the Pruitts when everyone else has left.
International Relief Teams (IRT) stayed in Mississippi for six years after Hurricane Katrina hit, sending teams of volunteers every other month until they had rebuilt or repaired more than 200 homes. In fact, I heard about the non-profit when one of HLN’s local affiliates did a story about a rebuilding project there. After a series of e-mails and phone calls, I was signed up to be on the first team of IRT volunteers to go to Pleasant Grove, Alabama. That’s where I met the Pruitt family, who were there every day as we put up the frame of their new home.
Our team, just like in every IRT project, was full of experts in their trades, from contracting to flooring to plumbing. I was definitely not one of the experts, but they graciously helped me learn the ins and outs of a nail gun and a jigsaw. The sense of camaraderie was incredible, not only from the other volunteers, but the local church members who donated food and a place to stay for our group. After six days, the walls were up, the roof was nearly complete and one team member built the bay window Denise had always wanted for her kitchen. The view out of that window is forever changed, though, by the 2011 tornado. The destroyed home across the street is still untouched, and as far as the eye can see the trees are snapped in half. It’s a reminder that we’re all at the mercy of Mother Nature.
The Pruitts’ home will be complete soon, but there are hundreds of families like them in Alabama, Missouri, Oklahoma and Ohio who still need help.
It’s all of our jobs not to forget about them.