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How to help: Workers prepping for volunteer effort in tornado zone

Ohatchee Tornado BW 10.JPG

Tornado damage in Ohatchee Thursday afternoon. Damage along Mudd Street. Photo by Bill Wilson

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect that the Calhoun County EMA has changed one of the sites where tornado victims can pick up donations. Instead of the Webster's Chapel Community Center, the new pick up site is First Baptist Church of Williams, 5579 County Road 37, Jacksonville.

The damage in the wake of Thursday’s tornado in Ohatchee and other rural Calhoun County communities is so significant, the area wasn’t even safe for most volunteer cleanup workers Friday. 

That doesn’t mean local officials aren’t eager to put volunteers to work, and soon. 

“We’re always in need of skilled chain saw operators,” said Tiffany DeBoer, spokeswoman for the Calhoun County Emergency Management Agency. “There’s always a need for them, but we’re open to help from anyone in the general public.”

The EMA put out a call Friday for heavy equipment operators to volunteer in the areas affected by Thursday’s tornado, which touched down in Ohatchee and roared northeastward through Wellington and other rural communities. The storm killed five people in Calhoun County. Local officials are still trying to determine the number of injured, and the count of homes damaged or destroyed. 

The damage is clearly extensive, though, to the point that the heavy equipment workers are needed just to make the area safe for other volunteers to enter and help with cleanup. 

“The heavy equipment people are clearing the debris from the roadways,” De Boer said. “Alabama Power is making sure there are no downed power lines that can pose a danger. Then we can open up to more volunteers.”

People who want to volunteer with storm cleanup can sign up at Oak Bowery Church on Alabama 144 in Ohatchee from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. starting Saturday.

People who live in the storm-affected area and need debris-clearing or other help can fill out a request for assistance at

Local officials have also set up a system for giving and receiving supplies for storm survivors. To donate, drop off items at the Calhoun County Agricultural Center on Bynum-Leatherwood Road between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Storm victims can pick up donations at the Ohatchee Senior Center or First Baptist Church of Williams, also between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Aid groups have asked that people refrain from donating clothing items. Instead, they’re seeking bottled water, tarps, hygiene products, paper towels and items for infants. 

After past major tornadoes, such as the storms in 2011 and 2018, volunteer groups took on recovery as a long-term project, and there were signs of a similar effort beginning Friday. The United Way of East Central Alabama on Friday announced the creation of a Tornado Relief Fund to accept monetary donations toward the recovery.

To donate, go to relief or send a check to United Way Tornado Relief Fund, P.O. Box 1122, Anniston, AL 36202.

Capitol & statewide reporter Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.