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In wake of deadly storm, logistics leads recovery effort

Tornado damage in Beauregard, Alabama on March 3, 2019. (Photo: Connie Majors)

As people in Beauregard, Alabama continue taking stock of their tornado-ravaged town, nearby neighbors and logistics groups are rallying to help them recover from the deadly storm that killed 23 and counting. It’s the deadliest March storm since 1932, when tornadoes killed more than 250 people during an outbreak on March 21.

An EF-4 tornado with winds of 170 mph did so much damage on Sunday, March 3 that Alabama Governor Kay Ivey declared a state of emergency on Monday, and the area has qualified for federal funds under a Major Disaster Declaration that President Trump approved on Tuesday, March 5. The grieving and rebuilding have only just begun.

Four of the people who died were young children, ages six, eight, nine and 10. Seven of the deceased were part of one extended family who lived in different homes on the same road, according to the Lee County Coroner. Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones said on Tuesday that seven or eight people were still unaccounted for.

“Hopefully, that number will continue to decrease as the day goes on,” Jones told NBC News on Tuesday.

Gary Hunt, a veterinarian at the Opelika Animal Hospital (seven miles north of Beauregard), said the facility had taken in at least two pets that belonged to people who died, and are holding several others.

“We don’t know their owners yet,” said Hunt. “We’re going to keep them until we find out who they belong to.”

Chef David Bancroft and his colleague Caleb Fischer, of Auburn-based Bow & Arrow, planned a “Burger Night Benefit” on Tuesday along with Acre, another restaurant in Auburn. All of the proceeds were donated to recovery efforts organized by the Dream Center, which is operated through the Alabama-based Church of the Highlands.

“My wife and I live about four or five miles [from] where the tornado touched down,” said Bancroft. “Honestly, most of us were shocked when we heard of the devastation, and I don’t think any of us were prepared.”

Additional help is so important, but it will take some time to arrive. The American Logistics Aid Network (ALAN) is a key organization that, since 2005, has helped connect non-profits such as the Red Cross and food bank networks to local resources, such as warehouse space and transportation. Executive Director Kathy Fulton told FreightWaves that ALAN hasn’t received requests for support as of this afternoon (March 7). This is likely because of the following reasons:

• Much of the area is still only accessible to search and rescue
• Pre-positioned supplies haven’t been used up
• Localized event, so local supply chain can suffice for now

Even though ALAN hasn’t been contacted, Fulton said she’s been conducting outreach at the state non-profit level in order to get ahead of any requests. The need for assistance in Beauregard will increase soon, and Fulton said that communication throughout the process is the biggest challenge.

“Weeding through the volumes of information to find the true needs, because what’s ground truth will probably change five minutes from now,” said Fulton. “Everything’s constantly shifting.”

Fulton said responding to specific requests and resisting the temptation to send unsolicited help makes the process run as smoothly and efficiently as possible.

Fulton added that non-profit relief organizations have phenomenal logistics, but gaps still arise in the supply chain. This is why ALAN works with groups like the International Warehouse Logistics Association (IWLA), the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) and state trucking associations to fill in these gaps.

Fulton expects ALAN’s recovery role in Alabama to kick in this weekend.

“Our hearts go out to the people who were impacted by Sunday’s tornadoes, which have proven to be among the deadliest and most destructive in U.S. history,” Fulton said in a March 6 press release. “As always, ALAN stands ready to help with donated transportation, warehouse space, services and equipment, and we are mobilizing accordingly.”

ALAN has also been helping communities in Tennessee recover from massive flooding in February. ALAN will be updating its active disaster micro-site frequently as requests for post-tornado and flood logistics assistance come in, and is working diligently to match requests with carriers, warehousing providers, third-party logistics providers and other logistics organizations that have pre-offered their assistance via its volunteer/in-kind donation database.

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Nick Austin, Director of Weather Analytics and Senior Meteorologist

In his 17 years of weather forecasting experience, Nick worked on air at WBBJ-TV and WRCB-TV, including time spent doing weather analysis and field reporting. He received his Bachelor of Science in Meteorology from Florida State University as well as a Bachelor of Science in Management from Georgia Institute of Technology. Nick is also a member of the American Meteorological Society and National Weather Association. As a member of the weather team at WBBJ-TV in Jackson, Tennessee, Nick was nominated for a Mid-South Emmy for live coverage of a major tornado outbreak in 2008. As part of the weather team at WRCB-TV in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Nick shared the Chattanooga Times-Free Press Best of the Best award for “Best Weather Team” for eight consecutive years. Nick earned his National Weather Association Broadcasting Seal in 2005.

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