By Chris Pow
U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Birmingham, toured Tuscaloosa's tornado recovery zone Friday afternoon with city and county officials and state representatives to get a first-hand look at rebuilding efforts across the city.
In the last stop of the tour, Sewell visited the newly finished Alberta City home of Deloris Mack, who lost her home in the April 27 tornado. The United Methodist Committee on Relief, with help from the UMC Hope Builders, a disaster relief group formed by local United Methodist churches, handed the keys to Mack last Saturday in a dedication ceremony.
Sewell said the rebuilding effort showcases the collaborative effort between faith-based organizations and all levels of government.
"Out of the despair, we saw opportunity and hope, and in order to do that, you have to have faith," Sewell said. "And I think today in seeing what's possible when people band together, that's what this is about."
Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox said Sewell has been listening to the concerns and needs of the city for all of the 352 days since the storm. Maddox was reminded of the conversation he had last April with Barack Obama during the president's tour of Tuscaloosa's tornado damage with officials including Rep. Sewell.
"We were walking down 7th Street and (the president) said 'Walt, what's your greatest fear?' -- of course, this is still less than 48 hours after the tornado touched down -- and I said 'I'm scared that once we're no longer the news story of the day, people will forget about us,'" Maddox said. "And he said, 'Trust me, no one's going to forget about you.'
"How true is that here today, when we have the city, the county, Congress, the social service sector -- in this case UMCOR."
Maddox said the city is committed to rebuilding Alberta City and making investments in infrastructure in the Juanita Drive area.
Mack thanked the city, the United Methodist Church and volunteers for reaching out and helping her in her time of need.
"There was someone there for me at all times," Mack said. "And now I'm back home. I thank God so much and I thank all the wonderful people who put their blessings, their love into the home."
Rev. Rock Stone, southwest district disaster recovery coordinator for the United Methodist Church of North Alabama, said UMCOR continues to build houses in the area for the uninsured, the elderly, disabled people and single-parent families.
"UMCOR's slogan is this: first in, last out," Stone said. "We were here immediately after the storm, when the dust settled, and I promise you we'll be the last people to leave this community as far as building a house."
Sewell said the visit helped her see how the recovery process has been moving and to pinpoint where needs were to further the progress of rebuilding.
"So if I can leave you with anything, it is the thought that this is one house, one step on this journey," Sewell said. "That the city of Tuscaloosa is on the move, but we're not there yet. And you are not alone. We will continue to work on the federal level, state level and local level to make sure that we build back better than before."