First of all, thanks to all of you who have called or emailed to tell me my blog or photosite update was helpful to you. Some of you have shared this information with other people — please do, since we continue to hear that in most areas, the news cycle has moved on.

Some news I learned today:

The hospital, which will be closed for an indeterminate amount of time, referred to only as “months,” has announced they are not laying off employees, as early reports hinted. This is a huge relief for the employees, as well as local government, which is already reeling from the loss of about 350 jobs only recently.

Many businesses are already reopening in temporary locations, including our family doctor, who moved into an after hours medical care facility. I read an interview with his partner, which said they were all set to move into a new 15,000 square foot facilty; both their current office and the new space were destroyed. According to a local TV station’s website, all but four local doctors have temporary office space somewhere in town. An accounting firm moved into a vacant church. Some other businesses have set up tents in their parking lots. But dozens of other businesses are still working out what to do, and initial reports state that hundreds of people will lose their jobs, at least temporarily. The Georgia Department of Labor set up an emergency center to start taking claims yesterday.

The Red Cross has announced that of the 500+ homes that are damaged, 173 were “destroyed” and 198 were “heavily damaged” — that’s 371 homes in unlivable condition.

Georgia Public Broadcasting did a piece I heard on the way to soccer practice that said the statewide damage from the storms and tornadoes was $135 million, and may possibly be the costliest insurance payout in state history. They stated that the “bulk” of the damage cost was in our town; the AP reports that only half that amount was here.

According to a widely published AP piece which my brother brought to my attention, Habitat for Humanity built four of the seriously damaged homes, and announced today that they would replace them, as well as helping other poor victims of the tornadoes. Interestingly, the article went on to say they would work with another local housing charity — the Fuller Center, founded by Habitat’s founder and former CEO, Millard Fuller. This would be a big step towards healing the hard feelings in the our community that resulted after Habitat asked Millard to leave. I hope the injured parties and local gossips are all ready to move on. You may have read the AP piece in your local paper.

I reached a friend yesterday afternoon, the deacon at our church, who I serve with in a local AIDS nonprofit. We caught up after leaving messages back and forth, and I learned that he’d gone in to take out what he wanted to keep from his home. I mentioned in my second update that both his home and his car were destroyed. His cottage was scheduled to be bulldozed today. He had a remarkably positive perspective — he told me it would be a relief to shed the “stuff” of his life and start over with only the essentials. Personally, I hope he saved his notebooks. He was an AP reporter, and covered the Civil Rights movement. He was the first reporter on the scene of the Birmingham church bombing, and filed the AP story that morning. I’ve heard him speak about interviewing Dr. King, and about the danger he and other white reporters faced all over the South. When we spoke though, he mostly wanted to tell me what a relief it will be to be reunited with his cat, who has been boarding at the vet while he worked out shelter for the two of them.

Much of the cleanup that can be done by volunteers is wrapping up. That’s hard for me to believe, having driven around town today, but I guess businesses generally have to hire help, for liability reasons. Home cleanup, at least on the exterior, has gone pretty smoothly, and a friend of mine who went out on several cleanup teams yesterday said that today the volunteer center sent her home. What’s left are structural problems, demolition, and huge trees or other large, heavy debris that cannot be cleared by hand or without professional consultation.

Schools, including the local state college, will reopen tomorrow.

Our effort to help out today was to invite kids from two families we know over to play soccer this afternoon (real and video). One is the family we were trying to reach on Saturday. An update on their electrical situation — they managed, through the dad’s personal contacts (he’s a contractor) to track down help and get the connection at the house repaired, and the power company restored their electricity. They won’t have phone (nor internet access) for another week. The other family lost power through Saturday night, but like us, were spared other damage. The dad is also a contractor, and the mom is out of town, so he was free to go check on some friends with major structural damage while the boys were here. None of the 4 boys who came over are looking forward to school being back in session. As I was loading the car to take two of them home, and then take G. to practice, a tree fell in the empty lot next door, not too far from the property line. Both boys jumped — and these are pretty fearless, rough and tumble guys, 12 and 13 years old. I imagine there won’t be much accomplished in classrooms this week, as kids are trying to move on from what they’ve been through, and what’s happened to our community.

That said, stay tuned for my regular poembound update on Friday. I am hoping to get back to my workshop group, and if I do, I’ll look forward to encouraging them to write about their experiences of the tornado and its aftermath.

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