Public quickly responds during times of crises

Freedom New Mexico

In the wake of the deadly storms that killed more than 300 people and wreaked destruction through a large swath of the South last week, a horrified nation assessed the devastation — and already had began to respond in person with aid and comfort.

Natural disasters cannot be prevented, as President Barack Obama noted Friday on his inspection of toppled trees, flattened neighborhoods, debris and rubble in Alabama. But people can and do respond, and were beginning to even as the furious storms subsided.

The Associated Press reported long lines at gasoline stations, looting “and the discovery of smashed heirlooms (that) sapped survivors’ energy Friday around cities shattered by the deadliest tornado outbreak in nearly four decades.”

The death toll was estimated Friday at more than 300 from the deadliest outbreak of U.S. tornadoes since April 1974. The National Weather Service gave the worst possible rating to a twister in Mississippi, characterizing it as the strongest since 1966.

“We’re going to make sure you’re not forgotten,” the president told residents.

A Tuscaloosa, Ala., resident pushing a grocery cart down a street of heavily damaged residences to salvage belongings from his home was quoted by the AP saying, “Hopefully he’ll give us some money to start over. Is FEMA here? The only place I’m hearing anything is at the Red Cross center.”

As the nation learned after the catastrophic Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the government may muster aid, but often is late and relatively ineffective compared to private agencies quicker to respond and less encumbered by bureaucracy.

Countless private individuals and organizations mobilized when the disaster struck, without fanfare or news conferences. Cellular South, a privately owned wireless communications provider, deployed a temporary mobile broadband cell site Thursday to Smithville, Miss. The Metro Birmingham Branch NAACP recruited volunteers for long-term relief because, “It is clear to us that assistance will be needed for some time.”

Newspapers and websites in the region rushed to publish lists of churches and other locations conducting relief and rescue efforts and urged donations, ranging from water to sack lunches and blankets, toilet paper, charcoal, flashlights, batteries, can openers, baby formula, diapers and nonperishable foods. Volunteers were being recruited to clear roadways of fallen trees and debris, and prayer requests were ubiquitous.

Our heart and prayers are with those stricken, and our gratitude extended to those assisting them.