Habitat Tuscaloosa

November 14, 2011 | by Ethan (email) |

I spent last week in Tuscaloosa, Alabama helping build new homes with Habitat for Humanity. It’s been six months since the tornado, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had no knowledge of current conditions, and I didn’t know how quickly a city could rebuild after such devastation. It was also surprising to learn of some of the unexpected challenges people face when they go to rebuild.

As we drove through the city, the path of the tornado was still so evident. It was eerie to be able to see exactly which buildings got hit and which survived. Some places have been demolished but many are still just as they were after the storm.

One challenge people face when rebuilding after a major disaster is meeting new codes and requirements. It’s not always enough to simply replace what was there. For instance, some older homes were built on very small lots. Since then, the minimum allowed lot size has increased. Those homeowners are out of luck because insurance companies only cover what was lost, not what is needed to bring an old property up to the latest standards.

This whole area was filled with buildings, billboards, and trees before the storm, and now there’s nothing. You can also see how close the tornado came to destroying the hospital in the background.

Most homes in the area were damaged beyond repair, and Habitat for Humanity has focused on new construction rather than trying to rehab homes. The first day we spent at a new site with many other volunteers pouring concrete, installing floor joists, and getting the subfloor down. Our team was only on this site the first day, but by the end of the week the other volunteers were starting on the roof trusses.

Every new home Habitat is building will have a safe room that is completely independent from the rest of the house.

Most of our week was spent at a second location installing flooring and molding, laying tile, hanging doors, blowing insulating and painting. The homeowner for this house is Camilla. We got a chance to meet her, and it was a real honor working on her home.

We all know the importance of staying hydrated, and thankfully Anheuser Busch made a donation….. of water.

Each day was as exhausting as it was rewarding. It was a joy to see the progress on the house, and I felt really privileged to have been able to help.

10 Responses
  1. jeff_williams says:

    So are the HfH houses all of similar design? Any assemblies built off-site? That second house looked great. Thank you for donating your time.

    Some of those first pictures were eerie.

    • Ethan says:

      None the the HFH houses I’ve seen where the same. Each house has a project manager that directs all the volunteers and they’re given plenty of creative license. For instance, that porch is almost entirely custom. The columns, crown molding, coffered ceiling and paint job was the done off the “inspiration” of Peter, the project manager for Camilla’s house.

      I don’t think they have anything built off-site but I didn’t ask that.

  2. paintergal says:

    Thanks for your time and effort. That is indeed a lovely home. It doesn’t look like just a slap-happy job, but one built with love and detail. I’m sure the new owner appreciates it.

  3. JustME says:

    What an awesome experience for you Ethan. I can imagine the feelings you had driving through the destruction even after six months had passed since the storm for I remember all too well the devastation a tornado causes. A “three finger” tornado tore through the heart of Omaha in the seventies right above the department store I was working at when it happened. Our building had very little damage but the street just behind us (higher ground) was ripped apart. Before that day, thought I respected her, I never feared mother nature. After seeing cars that had been tossed against brick walls, buildings flattened and pictures of a dollar bill stuck in a telephone pole fear comes much easier.

  4. MissFixIt says:

    Thats such a rewarding and feel good thing to do. I like the safe room. Post traumatic stress is always a problem when you go through something like this. For the new home owner to know they have a safe spot like this probably makes them feel a lot at ease.

  5. Joe says:

    I get the safe room, but wouldn’t a basement be better? are there just no basements in that part of the country?

    In my parents house in Upstate NY, I know EXACTLY where to go in the extremely unlikely event of a tornado (we just had one in MA… so you can’t rule anything out). They have a root cellar under a porch which is concrete on all sides (yes, ceiling too) and a single door into it. sounds like a good a place as any.

    I salute you on your volunteer efforts Ethan!

    • Ethan says:

      None of the houses we saw had a basement, and don’t think they were common for the area. Plus, I think they said the safe rooms were better for surviving a storm.

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