CHECKLIST: Lee County tornado volunteering, donations and FAQs

CHECKLIST: Lee County tornado volunteering, donations and FAQs
A large sign reads #BeauregardStrong to support those hit hardest by a Lee County tornado. (Source: WSFA 12 News)

LEE COUNTY, AL (WSFA) - Here’s a list of topics related to the Lee County tornado situation that you may need. Check back often as we continue to update this list.

FEMA Mobile Registration and Intake Centers

Those affected by the tornadoes in Lee County must register with FEMA in order to receive its services. You can call 1-800-621-FEMA or visit one of the following mobile registration centers. FEMA workers are walking around the community trying to touch base with everyone, but want to make sure ALL victims are connected to ALL of the resources available. You can also go to the website www.disasterassistance.gov.

These locations are open March 7 from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. and in the days beyond from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

  • Smith Station Fire and Rescue - 50 Lee Road 430, Smiths Station
  • Cannon Construction - 12422 AL Hwy. 430, Smiths Station
  • Lakeside Church of God - 3295 Lee Road 54, Opelika
  • Sanford Middle School - 1500 Lee Road 11, Opelika

VOLUNTEERS

A volunteer reception center is in place at Smiths Station Baptist Church, located at 2460 Lee Road 430, Smiths Station. It’s open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. ALL VOLUNTEERS MUST report to this area. Once registered, you will be given arm bands that will grant you access to the area where you’ll be dispatched to help.

DONATIONS

According to the Red Cross, donated items and household goods are not needed due to overwhelming generosity. Donations are now taking over spaces that could be used for people in need of safe shelter.

People who have lost their homes do not need clothing and household items, the Red Cross says. They have no home to take them to and no place to store these items. Those wishing to donate should consider making a monetary contribution which can be quickly used to provide shelter, food, and emotional support to victims.

The Lee County Emergency Management Agency Donation Warehouse will, however, take any donations EXCEPT for used clothing. (ABSOLUTELY NO USED CLOTHES) The warehouse is located at 15691 U.S. Hwy. 280 in Smiths Station. It’s open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily for drop offs.

Giving blood at your local blood center is always a great way to help those in need.

DISASTER ASSISTANCE

  • American Red Cross of East Alabama - 334-749-9981
  • Dial 211 to contact United Way for help finding other local resources

SHELTERS and AID STATIONS

The Alabama Red Cross has opened a shelter and two aid stations for tornado victims.

  • THE Auburn United Methodist Church post-landfall shelter is open for any tornado victims who need a safe place to stay. It’s located at 137 S. Gay Street in Auburn and is open as of March 7 at 6 p.m. CST
  • Emergency Aid Stations are available at the following addresses:
  1. 11186 Alabama Highway 51 in Opelika - Open daily from 10 a.m. CST to dark
  2. 32 Lee Road 562 in Smiths Station - Open daily from 10 a.m. CST to dark

WHAT ABOUT PETS AT SHELTERS?

The Red Cross says that if it’s not safe for you to stay home, it is not safe for your pet either. However, to maintain a safe and healthy environment in the shelters, companion pets are not allowed. ARC asking that people find a pet-friendly shelter for pets before coming to a Red Cross shelter. Service animals are always welcome in Red Cross shelters.

WHAT SHOULD I BRING TO THE SHELTER?

Should Bring: Glasses, Medications, Your child’s stuffed animal or favorite blanket, and an emergency kit

DO NOT Bring: Alcoholic beverages, illegal drugs, or weapons

LAUNDRY SERVICE

Alabama Baptist Disaster Relief has free laundry services at the following locations that will operate from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. CST.

  • Providence Baptist Church - 2807 Lee Rd 166
  • In Smith Station behind the government building - 1100 Lee Rd 298

DEBRIS CLEAN UP AND REMOVAL

PERSONAL ITEMS FOUND FROM THE TORNADO

If you’ve found a personal item, such as photographs or documents, you can take them to Smiths Station City Hall where they will be held for rightful owners to collect.

WHO ARE THE VICTIMS?

  • A total of 23 people ranging in age from 6-89 were killed in Lee County
  • At least 7 victims were from the same family
  • A full list of victims who were killed is HERE.
  • All missing persons have been located or accounted for
  • Approximately 90 people were injured to some degree in Sunday’s storms across several states, not just in Lee County
  • As of Thursday, four victims remain in ICUs at three hospitals but each is expected to survive

FUNERAL ASSISTANCE

According to Lee County Coroner Bill Harris, two corporations stepped forward to provide funds to cover funeral expenses for the 23 people who died in the Lee County tornado. One company remains anonymous. The other is the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, which provided $184,000.

The donations are being used for funeral and burial costs and are being handled and disbursed by the East Alabama Medical Center Foundation.

RETURNING TO YOUR HOME

  • Do not cut or walk past colored tape that was placed over doors or windows to mark damaged areas unless you have been told that it is safe to do so. If a building inspector has placed a color-coded sign on the home, do not enter it until you get more information, advice and instructions from your local authorities.
  • If you have children, leave them with a relative or friend while you conduct your first inspection of your home after the disaster. The site may be unsafe for children and seeing the damage first-hand may upset them even more and cause long-term effects, including nightmares.
  • Do not enter a building until it has been inspected for damage to the electrical system, gas lines, septic systems, and water lines or wells. Wear appropriate protective equipment such as gloves, safety glasses, rubber boots, and masks to protect you from debris and airborne particles, e.g., mold and dust.

GETTING MAIL

The U.S. Postal Service says it’s trying to reconnect tornado victims with their mail, but that is not possible if your mailbox is badly damaged or destroyed. With proper identification, you may pick up your mail at your local Post Office. If you have any questions regarding mail delivery, you can contact 1-800-ASK-USPS (275-8777).

UNEMPLOYMENT ASSISTANCE

Alabama Department of Labor Secretary Fitzgerald Washington says workers who became unemployed as a direct result of recent severe storms, straight-line winds and tornadoes in Lee County may qualify for unemployment assistance under the Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA) program, which was triggered when President Trump designated the area as a disaster area on March 5, 2019.

  • Claims can be filed through ADOL’s website at www.labor.alabama.gov or by calling 1-866-234-5382.
  • The deadline to file a DUA claim for Lee County is April 5, 2019.

IRS TAX RELIEF

The IRS is extending its April 15 and other upcoming deadlines for Alabama storm victims, and will provide other tax relief. Victims of Sunday’s tornadoes and severe storms in Alabama have until July 31, 2019, to file certain individual and business tax returns and make certain tax payments.

The IRS is offering this relief to any Major Disaster Declaration area designated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) as qualifying for individual assistance. Currently, this only includes Lee County, Alabama, but taxpayers in localities added later to the disaster area, including those in other states, will automatically receive the same filing and payment relief. The current list of eligible localities is always available on the disaster relief page on IRS.gov.

The IRS will work with any taxpayer who lives outside the disaster area but whose records necessary to meet a deadline occurring during the postponement period are located in the affected area. Taxpayers qualifying for relief who live outside the disaster area need to contact the IRS at 1-866-562-5227. This also includes workers assisting the relief activities who are affiliated with a recognized government or philanthropic organization.

Individuals and businesses in a federally declared disaster area who suffered uninsured or unreimbursed disaster-related losses can choose to claim them on either the return for the year the loss occurred (in this instance, the 2019 return normally filed next year), or the return for the prior year (2018). This means that eligible taxpayers who haven’t yet filed their 2018 return can claim a loss, and those who have already filed can choose to do so by filing an amended return. Be sure to include the disaster declaration number, FEMA 4419, on any return. See Publication 547 and Publication 5307 for details.

AVOID BECOMING A SCAM VICTIM

Attorney General Marshall urged the public to exercise caution before giving money to charities, to ensure that their money really goes to help tornado victims.

Consumers may find tips for careful and wise giving at www.ftc.gov/charity. Attorney General Marshall recommends that consumers take the following precautions:

Do your research

· Search the Alabama charities database on the Attorney General’s website.

· Search the charity’s name online with words like “complaint” and “scam.”

· Check out the charity’s ratings with groups like the BBB Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, and Charity Watch.

Ask questions

· What are the charity’s website, address, and mission?

· How much of your donation will go directly to services, rather than fundraising?

· If you wish your donation to be used for Alabama’s tornado victims, ask if the money will be spent for this in particular and not for the charity’s overall purposes.

Be careful how you pay

· If someone asks you to send them cash, wire money, donate by gift card, or leave money under your front doormat for pickup, don’t do it! That’s how scammers often ask you to pay. It’s safer to pay by credit card or check.

· If you’re donating online, check that the webpage where you enter your payment information has “https” in the web address. That means your information is transmitted securely.

· Legitimate charities will give you a receipt with the amount of your donation. Keep that record and check your credit card and bank statements to make sure you’re only charged for the donation you wanted to make.

Watch out for scammers’ tricks

· Scammers spoof caller ID to make their fundraising calls look like they are from your local area code, or from an organization you know.

· Scammers pressure you into donating immediately before you have time to do research. Reputable charities do not use coercive tactics and welcome your donation at any time.

· Scammers will thank you for a donation you don’t remember making. Scammers do that to trick you into thinking you actually made a pledge and to guilt you into sending money.

Donation Requests Through Social Media and Crowdfunding Sites

While many requests for donations through social media and crowdfunding sites are legitimate, some are scams. For example, there are people who misuse real pictures and stories to get you to donate, but the money goes into their own pockets. Crowdfunding sites often have little control over who uses them and how donations are spent. Research before you give.

Don’t assume that solicitations on social media or crowdfunding sites are legitimate – even when they are shared or liked by your friends. Do your own research. And call or contact your friends offline to ask them about the post they shared.

State of Emergency/Price-Gouging Laws

The Governor’s recent declaration of a State of Emergency activated Alabama’s price-gouging laws. As people recover and rebuild from storms, they should be wary of those who would prey upon them through crimes such as price gouging and home-repair fraud. Although what constitutes an unconscionable price is not specifically set forth in state law, a price that is 25 percent or more above the average price charged in the same area within the last 30 days—unless the increase can be attributed to a reasonable cost—is a prima facie case of unconscionable pricing. The penalty is a fine of up to $1,000 per violation, and those found to have willfully and continuously violated this law may be prohibited from doing business in Alabama.

Consumers and officials can report concerns of alleged fraud or illegal price gouging to the Attorney General’s Consumer Interest Division by calling 1-800-392-5658, by writing to 501 Washington Avenue, Montgomery, Alabama 36130, or by visiting https://ago.alabama.gov/ConsumerComplaint.

Copyright 2019 WSFA 12 News. All rights reserved.