I rode to Tuscaloosa, Al from Atlanta, Ga on my motorcycle last monday. I felt like I was being called to go volunteer, so I just went. I had tried to sign up with the red cross and other volunteer groups that were going, but they either required me to be 18 (I'm 17.), they cost too much, or they weren't happening for weeks. I didn't have very much money or very much time. I was supposed to go, and if I wanted to go, I had to make it happen whether I knew I would have a place to stay and food to eat once I got there.
When I told my mom what I was doing, she reacted exactly as I thought she would. I explained to her that in the State of Georgia, you can legally leave your home without the parents' consent, and my motorcycle is titled and insured in my name. She really couldn't stop me. Once she realized that, and that I was serious, she ended up giving me some money just before I left and wished me luck.
Newgrounds played a part in getting me there, too. I had heard rumors that I wouldn't even be able to get into Tuscaloosa because the National guard closed off the city due to contractors ripping people off and widespread looting. Cootie lives there, and was able to give me some information through some PMs and in a thread thread I made before I left.
Finally, when I got to Tuscaloosa, I pulled off my exit and then I saw another biker up at the red light. I pulled up next to him and told him I just rode from Atlanta to come volunteer, and asked where I should go. He pointed in a direction down the street. I asked him why, and he said "I don't know, just go that way."
So I did. I ended up finding my way to a red cross shelter. I went in and told them my story and that I wanted to volunteer. They were impressed with me until they asked where I was staying. I told them I didn't have a place to stay, and I was hoping to stay there while I volunteered. Apparently, the shelters are only for the people who's homes have been destroyed, I probably should have figured that, though.
I walked back out to my bike, getting nervous because it was getting dark and I was starting to think I was going to have to sleep outside. I wasn't able to bring a tent with me, plus I didn't have very much money. I brought a small tarp, a blanket, and a rope to make a makeshift tent incase I had to sleep outside and I had some food. All motels/hotels were filled within 30 miles, and besides I couldn't afford a room for 5 nights anyway.
As I was walking out the door, someone came up to me and handed me an address, and I have a GPS on my phone so I used it to get me to a volunteer registration center next to a hospital. I went in there and told them I came to volunteer, and I got the answer I expected. "Oh sorry, you need to be 18." Then I told them I came here all the way from Atlanta on my motorcycle, and then they lightened up. The lady doing my forms wrote me off as 18.
They printed me a volunteer badge, and then when I told them I was a photographer and I brought my camera gear, they gave me a press badge as well. I could get in and out of the affected areas occupied by the police and national guard, and get through the military checkpoints.
I had to do a quick orientation with some other volunteers, and midway into it a guy came up to me and said he heard I didn't have a place to stay, so he gave me a phone number to a pastor. I talked to the pastor and he said he's put up a lot of volunteers at his Church, and they provide breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and will give you work to do out in the city. He invited me to dinner, so I finished up the orientation and went to the church. I ate dinner with the other volunteers staying there, and the pastor introduced me to some students from Auburn University who came to volunteer. He told me I was staying with them.
So for the next few days, I had a room with some chill college kids. Pretty much I'd get up at 6, we'd go join up with a chainsaw team, chainsaw trees that had gotten in the roads and on people's houses, and then I'd break off some time in the afternoon to go photograph all the destroyed areas. I went into a lot of destroyed and abandoned buildings, and the national guard, as well as the cops, mistook me for a looter multiple times. I'd just flash my badge and they'd leave me alone or politely kick me out. I left Friday, and I've gotta say it's an experience I'll never forget and nothing I've ever done has ever felt this rewarding. I wish I could have stayed longer, and I plan on going back again this summer.
In this thread, I'm posting Tuscaloosa as I saw it through my camera lens after the Tornado that destroyed half the town on 4/27. If you want to donate to those affected, you can do so through paypal here.
I realize the wall of text above could probably build a 3,000 square foot home but props if you actually read the entire thing.
And before you say "Doesn't this belong in the art forum?" I'm not posting this as art, if anything it's more like journalism.
First photo, just riding around somewhere in the northeastern part of the city that just got utterly fucked. No one lives in any of these neighborhoods anymore, the only people in these parts of the city are either volunteers, the national guard, or the city workers.