Friday, May 30, 2008

Where to send Donations

To donate money directly to the citizens of Parkersburg, send a check made payable the LSB Foundation, Lincoln Savings Bank, 242 Tower Park Drive, Waterloo, Iowa 50701. Please designate on your check that you want it to go to Parkersburg tornado victims.

Thanks for all the support.

Thursday -- May 30 morning

Okay, so no new photos to post, but the scene is rapidly changing. The city and county officials are doing a fantastic job of getting debris removed. The changes just in the three days I've been here are pretty amazing.

Yesterday's torrential downpours didn't help the situation much. I made a video of the flooding taking place downtown on Second Street (the main street) because of all the downed tree limbs and debris clogging up the drains in the gutters. I'll attach it tomorrow when I'm at home because I don't have the cable to attach the camera to the computer.

I'm frustrated, along with many citizens, with the lack of information. I've offered to help, but the government officials seem to think they've got it under control. Here's one example of the job their doing... Yesterday morning during the daily 10:00 a.m. town meeting, they tested the tornado sirens. Their plan was to do it then because "everybody" (for those of you in the communication field that's akin to the "general public") was there and they wouldn't be freightened. This is a town of about 1900 people; a conservative guess would say that 600 have completely lost everything, but all 1900 residents witnessed this tornado. The daily town hall meetings host approximately 100 people. I'm no wiz with numbers, but even I can do the math on this problem. I was downtown in an office building with a number of other employees (many of whom had lost everything) and customers (many of whom had lost everything) when the sirens went off -- it was terrifying. To make matters worse, we were in the middle of a strong thunderstorm (I realize that officials couldn't account for Mother Nature).

We have National Guard patroling the streets. Would it have been wrong for them to poke their head in every business downtown before hand and let people know about the test? Would it have been wrong to tell the media the day before about the test? Would it have been wrong to put the information into the Daily Bulletin (again, something that "everyone" gets) the day before?

Yesterday, I heard an official on the radio saying that they are doing an "extraordinary job of communicating with people." We all know that if you have to tell people that you're doing an excellent job, you aren't doing an excellent job. You're using the media respond to criticism (public relations 101). I wish the communication staff, whoever it is, would come and sit in City Hall or an insurance or attorney's office, like I've been doing, and listen to the rumors and frustration and misinformation.

I know this has been a bit of a rant, but it's frustrating to see so many, many things going right, but this one area going so terribly wrong.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Thursday, May 29 -- morning

The first order of business today is a meeting with FEMA's public information officer.  My goal is to try and figure out the best way to get consistent message out to the citizens.  There are rumors circulating and people are getting frustrated with the lack of information.  There are press conferences, which don't really help people with little to no access to mass media.  There are town meetings; for the people who know about them and can fit into the church; but no one is talking directly to the people.  Walking through the rubble and making sure people know what they need to do; sitting at the insurance agents' offices (where nearly everyone passes through) and telling people what they need to know.  It's the people who are the most affected who are the least informed.  I'm going to try to help with that task.

Last night when our committee met with FEMA, we were informed that Parkersburg is about two weeks ahead of where any other community normally is during a disaster like this.  You can not stop these people or break their spirit.

They are growing weary, however, of the photographs and the news crews.  The shock is wearing off and the reality is setting in.  That's why it's so important to stay ahead of the curve with the services and information they need to survive the next few days, weeks and months.

As I drove through town yesterday and really surveyed the lost homes of my former classmates, it occured to me that there are really about 800+ miracles walking around this town.  Their houses didn't just get blown away.  While they were in the basement, their houses got picked up, exploded and dropped back down on top of them in slivers.  The basements are full of debris that dropped on them while they sought protection there.  The fact that so many survived is a miracle.  The fact that any perished is a tragedy.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

May 28 -- Day 4

A sign of hope for us all.

This is (was) my high school.  All the high school kids have been busy trying to clean up debris on the site.  Today, the football players took a break from cleaning up the school to dig graves in the cemetary for a couple who was killed in the tornado.  These kids are having to grow up pretty fast and are doing a great job.

The high school team is called the Aplington-Parkersburg Falcons.  Here's a salute to the A-P Falcons.

This is the house I grew up in.  As you can see, it is in perfect condition.  The houses at the end of the block are not in as good shape.

This is the city park where we had our school picnics at the end of every year in elementary school.
Here's what we see a lot of here: media and National Guard

So, today is my second day here (3 days since the tornado).  I "borrowed" two high school girls (although they were so sweet, I wanted to keep them, not just "borrow" them) to help with some communication efforts as well as taking some photos for this blog.  I really wanted to see this scene from their perspective.

Thanks Emma and 'Biz for the photos.  I stuck in a few of my own, too.

I started today at the Command Center gathering information from the county sheriff regarding debris collection and disposal.  The key message for the day was safe and efficient clean-up of debris.  My "borrowed" helpers and I made packets of information.  One of the offices on Main Street brought in a gasoline generator so we used the computer and copier in their office.

Some of the packets went to the sheriff for distribution.  I literally just drove up and down the streets looking for media representatives and gave them the packets in advance of a town hall meeting this morning.  Emma and 'Biz stood outside the church where the town hall meeting was being held (town hall is a pile of rubble now) and passed out the packets.  Several hundred of them went to the Disaster Center (which up until this week was the Vet's Building).

Homeowners have pretty much retrieved as much from the rubble as they're going to. Although tonight at dinner I heard a heartwarming story from a woman who graduated with my younger sister.  Late this afternoon as they were beginning to remove the remains of the home, their dog scrambled out from under a piece of debris where she'd been stuck since Sunday night.

We've formed a community committee to try and address some of the immediate needs but also put in place some plans for the long haul.  Our main goal right now is to direct the funds that are coming in to the people who need them.  .... so many logistics, so few resources (sigh).

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Tuesday, May 27 -- Day 3 photos and comments

This picture is of Johnson Street, where I grew up.  The house I grew up in is several blocks to the north.  I haven't seen it yet, but the houses near there were standing, so I assume that it's still there, too.

Here I am in my hometown, three days after an EF5 tornado ripped through the southern end of the town.  As I approached the town from the west, I saw the State Troopers' roadblock.  They were very nice to me, but they did want me to declare what business I had in town.  They were trying to protect the residents of the town by ensuring that people who enter the town aren't there to loot or gawk.  Keep up the good work, fellas!

I've posted some pictures here.  None of them are really very different from what you've seen in the news.  They do not really paint a picture of what has happened here.  The smiles; the laughter; the hugs; the debris; the disaster and the chaos at the "command center" tell more about the spirit of this community and Iowans in general than any photo ever will.

At the command center, where all emergency personnel are stationed, there are police and fire officials from nearly every town and county in the state.  They all seemed to know what was going on, but to the outsider it looked pretty hectic and chaotic.

In every yard, barely visible among the debris were the people who call this community home. They were talking to their neighbors and friends.  Sifting through the remnants in hope of finding just one treasure to remind them of what they had and to offer hope of what they'll have as they rebuild their homes and their lives.