It’s been a little more than a month since a devastating EF4 tornado ripped through the Beauregard community on March 3, claiming the lives of 23 people and injuring dozens more.
The recovery process is well underway for some of the at least 300 families whose homes were either severely damaged or destroyed.
For others, though, the process has barely even started.
“The recovery process has been slow,” said Granadas Baker, a resident of Beauregard whose mobile home was severely damaged by the storm. “Insurance is dragging their feet.”
With little notice before the storm hit, Baker, his wife and three of their children rode it out in the bathroom of their home.
“I thought we were going to die, literally,” Baker said. “But once I was knocked back, it was just so calm. I just felt the greatest calming over me. I was just watching all of the insulation fly around. It was just the insulation and wood and stuff was everywhere.”
Part of the insulation and wood came from his family’s home, which was rendered uninhabitable by the storm. Their home of 16 years was essentially destroyed.
“It’s all gone,” said his daughter, Kiara Slater.
A home is being rebuilt just right across the street from the Bakers’ home, which hasn’t even been bulldozed yet. Many of their now-ruined belongings still sit inside the house.
Volunteers have been helping for weeks, and FEMA is assisting in the recovery process.
“There has been a lot of response from volunteers,” said Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones. “Just overwhelming in the first few weeks, which was very, very heartening to see, of course. And, the community response has been great. Volunteers continue to come, especially on weekends when time permits for them. We continue to receive support from too many organizations to name, quite frankly.”
That community support is one of the only things keeping the Bakers going as their recovery process sits on pause.
“The community as a whole and people coming together as a whole, that’s what has been keeping everything together,” Baker said. “It hasn’t been people’s insurance because we’re having to wait on our insurance just to see what we can get FEMA to do to help us get some kind of normalcy. But if it hadn’t been for the people, I mean, I don’t know what we would be doing.”
FEMA permanently closed its Disaster Recovery Center in Lee County in late March, which had been a centralized location where those affected by the storm could seek support from FEMA, the Lee County EMA, the Alabama EMA and the Small Business Administration.
FEMA has said it received more than 600 applications for assistance. The federal agency has approved more than $900,000 in aid to those affected by the storm.
Baker said the problem has not been so much with FEMA, but confusion over the process of waiting on insurance and when to move forward with FEMA for federal aid.
“That was my issue, knowing what steps we take once our insurance does whatever it’s going to do,” Baker said. “That was the main thing, and we really couldn’t find anybody that could tell us, and we finally got somebody who could tell us that yesterday. Now, you know, we have an idea of what our next step is and how the process is going to be.”
In the meantime, as the Bakers wait on their insurance to come through and for help from FEMA, a community organization has stepped in to help. The East Alabama Medical Center Foundation is paying for an apartment for the family.
“Lives were lost, of course,” Jones said. “Properties damaged. Whole residences, years of family history gone in just a few minutes. It’s going to be a long process.”
When they do get their money situation figured out, Baker said he and his family plan to move back to Beauregard.