After waking up in the morning, most people head to the bathroom to take a shower and brush their teeth. But what if you woke up in the morning and all of that was gone — the shampoo, the toothbrush, your home?
“That is when reality sets in. That it’s all gone,” Salvation Army Capt. Dan Williams said.
Williams recently witnessed this scenario time and time again as he spent two weeks helping people who lost their homes from flooding in Memphis, Tenn. and a tornado in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
He guided people through what to do after losing their homes and gave them strength to move forward and rebuild.
“People at that point of life are devastated, so you put your arm around them and say it’s going to be OK. I would want someone to be there for my family and have someone there who cared,” he said.
Williams fed displaced residents with roast beef au jus and hot dogs, counseled them through the heartache of losing their home, passed out kits with basic hygiene supplies and gave them gift certificates to Walmart or Lowe’s so they could go buy some clothes or supplies.
Throughout the years, Williams has responded to disasters all over the country. He went to Mobile, Ala. to help with the Hurricane Ivan recovery effort, North Dakota to assist families with flooding and New Orleans to help Hurricane Katrina survivors.
He has done almost every job, from driving a forklift for two weeks, to serving as the main coordinator for Salvation Army teams, to working as the public information officer for media.
While on these trips, he often hears chilling stories. In Tuscaloosa, a mom grabbed her six children and put them under three mattresses and laid on top of them as the tornado blew away their house.
A husband told his wife to grab their baby as he rounded up the other children. As she grabbed the child from his crib, the tornado blew the crib away.
While helping people who have lost everything during a natural disaster, Williams said he relies on his faith.
“Being a pastor and really trusting in God, he’s got a plan in all of this. Through all the devastation, I still see God working through everything,” he said.
His group, including five other Salvation Army representatives from California, arrived in Memphis on May 13 after flooding displaced 2,500 people, including 600 mobile homes that were flooded and no longer useable.
“They were thankful to be alive and get out of their homes with some of their stuff,” he said.
Those affected by the flooding were in limbo waiting for the water to recede, which usually takes about three to five weeks. Some stayed with family members; others lived in shelters.
People were wondering how high the water reached and if they could salvage anything, like family photos hanging on the wall or items at the top of closets or cupboards.
Because residents couldn’t go back into their homes, the Salvation Army set up stations for people to come and receive services.
In Tuscaloosa, Williams went out into the community to pass out food or supplies, like cleaning kits.
The tornado went straight through the middle of town. Some buildings were demolished while others were barely touched.
“I was eating lunch at Chipotle and right across the street everything is gone. Chipotle was serving burritos, while three doors down, Starbucks was serving drinks out of a kiosk,” he said.
Even the Tuscaloosa Salvation Army was heavily damaged. About 30 people were eating in the dining hall, when they heard what sounded like a major storm. They huddled in the room, and after it passed, came out and discovered everything around them was destroyed.
The roof on most of the Salvation Army building blew away. Leather office furniture was buried under warped metal. Walls had collapsed.
He helped people deal with the devastation by listening to them and making them smile.
“They are getting some of that tension out through laughter. ... They need to start rebuilding and getting their lives back together,” he said.
By the end of his week in Tuscaloosa, Williams said he could see progress as people salvaged their possessions and then tore down the damaged buildings.
Half of the Salvation Army was already torn down and in Dumpsters, in preparation for it to be rebuilt.
“They weren’t going to let this get them down,” he said.