TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - Relief officials inundated with donations after the flurry of twisters that killed more than 300 people across the South are sorting through the broken toys and used underwear they don't need while hunting for places to store mountains of vital supplies like canned food.
Across Alabama, agencies are still encouraging people to send items like cleaning supplies for people clearing debris from tornado-damaged homes, or cash donations that can be used to cover operating expenses or handed out to victims. But with storage space scarce, most say they can't handle any more used toys or cast-off clothing.
"That becomes the disaster within the disaster," said Salvation Army spokesman Mark Jones. "When people make those mass donations ... it causes the community to be overrun with them and have to deal with that in addition to the storm damage."
In a dimly lit warehouse in Tuscaloosa, for instance, donated toys are piled 6 feet high as volunteers sort through hundreds of bags of old clothes. A 3-foot-tall plastic Santa Claus looks over the operation; volunteers say it came in with a load of contributions.
At a donation distribution center in the northwest Alabama town of Phil Campbell, volunteer manager Beth Rhea has baby food stacked almost to the ceiling, plenty of water and doesn't need any more clothes. But she could use some tents and camping gear because some victims are sleeping outside beside the rubble of their homes.
As for the Salvation Army, Jones said the agency only recently found warehouse space in hard-hit Tuscaloosa and still desperately needs new underwear, nonperishable foods, pet food and sports drinks. It's still searching for more storage space for things that won't be used right away.
Dozens of tornadoes whipped across the South on April 27, killing people across seven states and injuring hundreds more as entire communities were leveled.
Canned food and cleaning products are urgently needed, said Karen Thompson, director of Temporary Emergency Services of Tuscaloosa County, because some private homes have become shelters as families take care of relatives and friends left homeless by the twisters.