2011: Alabama Twisters

J. Danny Cooper, CEO, Alabama Association of REALTORS®, discusses the tragedy that struck his state earlier this year, and the REALTOR® response.

September 1, 2011

What has the REALTORS® Relief Foundation meant for the REALTORS® and citizens of your state?

We have been challenged by Hurricanes Ivan and Katrina, the Gulf oil gusher, and now this year’s tornadoes. All of these events had a major impact on the state’s economy, on individual REALTORS®, and on our local and state associations. These disasters compounded the challenging market with the economy as it was. Yet our members have persevered. They have moved forward, and they have continued to have the most positive attitudes of any individuals I’ve known. It’s a testament to the human spirit.

The American Dream of home ownership is as dear as ever. Our state president in 2005, Randy McKinney, went to the coast after the landfall of Katrina. He stopped at three homesites where families were living in tents with generators, candles, and grills. They told him, “This is our land. We own this,” and they wouldn’t leave until they could build. He was so moved by that spirit. He led us to continue in our recovery.

How are you coping after the tornadoes that ripped through your state April 27?

What people don’t realize is that two-thirds of our state was affected. Tornadoes hit in 45 of the 67 Alabama counties, and 21 of our 30 local associations are in impacted areas. You’d be stunned at the number of EF2, 3, 4, and 5 tornadoes that happened that day; I think there were 47 tornadoes. FEMA declared this a Category 1 disaster; 9/11 and Katrina were the only others. Yet 36 hours later, there was the Royal Wedding [between England’s Prince William and Catherine Middleton], then on May 1, Osama Bin Laden was killed. And then the Joplin, Mo., tornado hit [May 22]. Those stories drove us off the front page.

Even now [July 2011, more than a month after the tornadoes], I estimate 78,000 [Alabama citizens] are still without shelter. FEMA is putting in temporary housing shelters, but it can’t be done until debris cleared.

Without missing a beat, we have continued to help families with what we could. If we had not had disaster assistance from NAR and from the state and local associations around the country, we could not have helped. And we could not have done it without the help of individuals. Individuals from 37 states have sent a donation to our relief fund. And in the Virgin Islands, every member of their association gave something.

A group of REALTORS® approached me at the May meetings and asked what they could do to help. We refer to this great outpouring as the REALTOR® family helping us. We want to help in return when we can, and we have done that recently. We made a contribution to the Missouri disaster relief fund following Joplin.

When the REALTORS® Relief Foundation was founded, REALTORS® were in the midst of a housing boom. As a result, many had discretionary income to contribute. Now, when there's a call for contributions, it's a much more difficult decision to make. Does it make sense, in the current economy, to keep trying to provide some level of funding to help disaster-stricken areas?

Yes, and all of us in this state feel the same way. We all know someone who was impacted by this personally. Among REALTORS® we experienced one death, injuries, and about 3 dozen lost homes. We want to help them, and we are. But REALTORS® are saying to us, “Let me see if I can’t handle this myself. Others need help more than we do.” This is the human spirit.

We’re doing a Welcome Home program as families move into temporary homes. The task force is providing a container full of things families need. Hundreds of REALTORS® have volunteered every week since this happened. REALTORS® are working every day in helping people recover — delivering food, water, baby formula, milk. Friendships are being made that I think will be everlasting.

Those of us who didn’t have one bit of damage were so close to those who died or who lost everything. It’s a call to all of us to put the emphasis on what’s important. Family, friendship, and faith are the things that will bring us through. You don’t even have to say, “What am I going to do?” Instead say, “Where can I start?” You don’t even have to get it right; just the act of doing something will lead to recovery.

Our president, Robert Scott, is from Birmingham. He has done a tremendous job of leading the hearts and muscle of REALTORS® from across the state and elsewhere to help in every way they can. It has been a team effort. We hope the flow of volunteers will not lessen. There’s work every day, and there will be work for years to come.

Stacey Moncrieff

Stacey is executive editor of publications for the National Association of REALTORS® and editor in chief of REALTOR® Magazine.