“It looks so different now,” Joyce Parris said, looking out at the green hills where stands of trees and several homes were now erased. It seemed brighter, she said.
People talked about their sheriff, Jimmy Harris, who, facing a shortage of manpower and a massive disaster, sent nonviolent prison inmates around the town to offer help.
One appeared in the yard of Wooten’s son.
“Anyone here need water?” the man asked in the hot afternoon.
“I reckon we got it pretty much covered,” Wooten said, then went back to work, moving a piece of blue siding.
After a while, he got in his truck and drove around town, across power lines and hills of debris.
He saw a cousin up ahead, walking along the road. He stopped and rolled down the window.
“Hey Sid,” he said, and asked him about his family.
“My mom and dad,” Sid said, shaking his head, explaining they were killed.
The two men talked awhile, both of them managing not to break down.
“So, give me a holler,” Wooten told his cousin, and then drove off to help out with another funeral.
By Saturday morning, officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency had not yet arrived in Rainsville, and Wooten still had not heard all of Obama’s speech. Around noon, about 15 people, most of whom had not heard Obama’s speech, either, had started gathering in the Bevill center, waiting for the federal officials, who began to show up shortly after.
Some security officers handed orange “How Do I Apply for Assistance?” fliers to people coming in, who talked quietly in the mostly empty auditorium about the oddity of not being able to locate even a shred of their trailer homes.
Asked what she expected from the federal government, Christy Tucker said she wasn’t really sure, because she had never been in this situation before.
“I guess I expected to have a front door,” she said, referring to her obliterated house, which she left for a shelter as the tornadoes approached. Tucker, who was recently laid off from a sock factory nearby, had been getting by with help from relatives the past few days and was now hoping federal officials might help fill that role.
She had been waiting about an hour in the auditorium for them to show up.
“We’re trying to be patient because the damage is so widespread,” she said. “So far, I’ve mostly seen people helping other people. I’m just grateful to have any help.”