If you live outside of the southeastern US, you may have missed the news coverage last week of the damaging tornadoes that ripped through the town of Jacksonville, Alabama, about 20 minutes north of the viiz office and call center where I work in Anniston. We learned from the news that despite the extensive damage that occurred, miraculously, there were no fatalities or life-threatening injuries. There was, however, significant structural damage, as well as, many downed power lines and trees throughout the town and surrounding area. Facilities at Jacksonville State University (JSU) sustained significant damage, and, as I write this, the 8,600 students and staff are still waiting to learn when power will be fully restored and repairs will be completed so they can return to campus and resume classes. It was a devastating blow to our local community.
For the first several days after the tornados hit, only emergency personnel, power company crews, and contractors were allowed into Jacksonville. They were there to ensure things were safe before repairs could even begin. On Wednesday, we got the word that volunteers would be needed Friday, and several of my staff from the call center and I signed on to volunteer at the Calhoun County Emergency Management Association (EMA).
Friday morning arrived, and we met at the designated location and boarded a school bus to take us into the area. Our assignment was for debris removal from Zone 1, which included the JSU campus. As we approached the campus, building after building showed scars of the storm. When we arrived at the Zone 1 epicenter, the sight was simply unbelievable. Hundred-year-old trees lay uprooted. Homes, dorms, and classroom buildings were missing roofs and walls. Shingles, branches, and debris lay everywhere. Even though we were braced for substantial damage, there was no way to be prepared for what we saw through those school bus windows. We were all asking the same questions, “How could everyone have survived this? Where do we even begin such a monumental task?”
It was, without a doubt, overwhelming, but we were there to help. So, we did the only thing we could do; we got off the bus, put on gloves and safety glasses and picked up chainsaws and rakes. We worked all day, standing side by side with victims, first responders, coworkers, and total strangers and began the recovery, one pile at a time. It was an exhausting day, but we wouldn’t have been anywhere else. After a long day and lots of hard work, we even made fellow volunteer Bob an honorary viiz team member!
Tomorrow, and for many days, weeks, and months to come, our community will continue what we started on Friday – we will remove the debris and then rebuild. In the face of this devastation, I have to say I’m proud to be a member of a community that has truly come together for those whose lives have been turned upside down. I’m also very grateful to all the first responders for their work at the time of immediate crisis and beyond and to viiz for standing by our community during this very challenging time. If you’re interested in supporting the work that’s going on in Zone 1, please consider making a donation to the JSU Foundation for disaster relief. #jsustrong #goviiz #viizsmiles
Director of Global Operations