Starting on September 3, 2012, torrential rain and flash flooding from Hurricane Isaac destroyed the Harris and Smith families’ homes in Lowndes County, Alabama. When emergency services and disaster relief failed to respond, the Harris and Smith families contacted the Alabama Center for Rural Enterprise and EJI for help. Last month, the families moved into new, fully furnished homes provided by an anonymous donor.
Lowndes County’s population is nearly three-quarters African American and 27% percent of residents live at or below the poverty level. It is located in Alabama’s Black Belt, home to some of the poorest counties in the United States. When Hurricane Isaac caused massive flooding in Collirene, a small, predominantly African American community in Lowndes County, the Harris and Smith families experienced firsthand how emergency services and disaster relief agencies fail to reach residents living in poor, rural, predominantly African American communities.
The Harris and Smith families repeatedly contacted the sheriff’s office and the Lowndes County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) for help over a period of several days, but received no response. Their clothes, furniture, and precious family keepsakes were gone, and within days of the storm, mold seeped into the ceilings, floors, and insulation of their homes and developed dangerous spores, making it unsafe for the families and their children to remain there.
After short-term assistance from the Red Cross ran out, the families contacted EJI Rural Development Manager Catherine Flowers for help. EJI and the Alabama Center for Rural Enterprise provided several weeks of hotel accommodations for both families and made public appeals for additional support. An anonymous donor learned of the families’ plight and stepped forward to provide them with new homes.
Frank and Rosa Harris, parents of five girls and three boys, received a four-bedroom, three-bath home in White Hall, Alabama, and Sears and Amy Smith and their three daughters received a three-bedroom, two-bath home in Mosses, Alabama. The homes are fully furnished and, because residents of Lowndes County have suffered from inadequate wastewater treatment for decades, septic systems for each location were provided by Kess Environmental and Danny Brown, the Alabama Onsite Wastewater Association, Northwest Supply in Prattville, The Organized Community Action Program, and Allen Nipp of Infiltrator Systems.