|AL Poultry Growers Launch Twister Relief Fund|
It will take a long time for victims of April’s killer tornadoes to recover physically and mentally, and leaders of Alabama’s poultry industry have launched a special relief effort to help them.
It’s called the "Alabama Poultry Growers 2011 Tornado Relief Fund" and financial assistance is being solicited to help those who were devastated by twisters claiming more than 200 lives in the state on April 27.
Unlike some relief programs helping victims rebuild houses blown or washed away by natural disasters, the fund launched by the Alabama Poultry & Egg Association (AP&EA) is focusing on more immediate needs.
"People need money to buy clothes, food, toiletries, transportation and other personal items, and they need it now," Association Executive Director Johnny Adams said. "This fund is designed to help them get back on their feet as quickly as possible."
Aid from around the country poured into Alabama following the tornadoes, but immediate as well as long-range help is something the AP&EA has in mind.
All contributions to the fund are tax-deductible and all of the funds raised will go to Alabama’s poultry grower victims, Adams said.
Television and newspaper reports on the tornadoes shocked people, but up-close inspections were even more stunning.
"It looked like a grinder went through the areas I saw," Association Membership Director Ray Hilburn said. "There was nothing left. It was all gone."
Poultry is Alabama’s leading agricultural industry, providing 55,000 jobs as well as having a $7.5 billion economic impact on the state.
During his inspection tour of north Alabama, where most of the poultry farms and processors are located, Hilburn could see just how serious the damage was.
"Our reports indicate that 3.5 million birds were killed, between 220 and 230 broiler houses were completely destroyed, and more than 500 others suffered moderate-to-severe damage," he said.
Alabama poultry growers process 21 million birds a week at facilities throughout the state, so the tornadoes did not deal a debilitating blow to an industry expected to recover quickly.
It still may take awhile for growers to replace older houses with new ones, which can cost a lot of money. Many of the destroyed houses were built 40 or more years ago and became easy prey to winds estimated at more than 150 mph.
Today’s poultry houses are technological marvels with price tags of $300,000 or more, said Hilburn. Small operators will have some major decisions to make in the coming months.
In the meantime, many of those affected by the twisters are still in shock weeks after it happened. Their pain is felt throughout the industry.
"People in the poultry business feel as though they are all members of one big family," Hilburn explained. "When something like this happens, we all feel it."
That was the case after a tornado devastated the Hallmark family in the Marshall?County community of Ruth. Five members of a family long involved in the poultry business were killed, including a small child. Four members survived.
It’s expected to take many months to completely clear away the damage and rebuild in those areas flattened by tornadoes. Most of the poultry producers hit hardest by the tornadoes went to work right away.
One is Dorman Grace of Walker Country. He, his wife and a son made it into a safe area in their house just in time as howling winds had them wondering if their roof was about to blow off.
Their house suffered some damage, but his poultry business took a major hit. He estimated it could take up to $600,000 to rebuild.
"It’ll probably be six months before some poultry farmers are completely on their feet and back to normal," Hilburn said. "Some poultry growers lost every breeder house on their property. They could do little but survey the damage and begin to plan for the future."
He added that some poultry growers may not want to continue in the business and may prefer to take what insurance money they can get and move on.
"Right now we have a waiting list of people who want to build chicken houses," he said. "It can provide a very good livelihood for families."
Alabama’s poultry industry accounts for more than half of all of the state’s farm income and is a world leader in broiler production.
Alvin Benn is a freelance writer from Selma.