Crossroads resident rolls up his sleeves, pitches in to help tornado-ravaged South

A one-way sign points toward the destruction caused by tornados that ravaged the South two weeks ago.

Patrick Covington has seen more than his share of disaster, so he wasn't shocked by what he saw as he traveled through the southern states last week.

"Massive trees were turned to toothpicks. Whole houses that had been destroyed were covered by the trees," Covington, a Cuero native, said.

As they sorted through the wreckage caused by the tornadoes that struck two weeks ago, people in Alabama were finding papers from as far away as Mississippi, swept there by the 250 mph winds, Covington said.

When disaster strikes, Covington is used to being able to help. A veteran, he was sent to Haiti during an uprising and Somalia during a famine. He was on hand when Hurricane Andrew struck the coast and worked doggedly in the rubble helping to rebuild New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

"Sometimes people just needed a hug. Whatever they needed, we tried to give them until we ran out," he said.

Covington was already planning on traveling through the South when he saw that tornadoes had cut a wide path of devastation through the states. Since he would be traveling through the area to go to a writing workshop, the Cuero native decided to load up his tiny hatchback car with supplies to hand out on the way.

After Covington announced he would be taking supplies to people in the disaster area, donations came flooding in. Covington and Richard McMurrey, his girlfriend's 13-year-old son, left Cuero on May 1, his tiny hatchback car loaded down with almost 600 pounds of supplies to be distributed.

Covington said he was impressed with the response from the community. People and organizations flooded him with the personal hygiene items he requested that they donate.

"I asked for the stuff that you don't think to grab when the National Guard is pounding on your front door telling you to get out of your house," he said.

Covington and Richard arrived in Meridian, Miss., just ahead of the National Guard. They told him about different areas just opening relief centers. Covington decided to go to Warrior, Ala., a town of about 3,500 people, to see if he could help.

Working with the FEMA center that had just opened, Covington and McMurrey spent two-and-a-half days working to hand out the donations they'd brought. They handed out things to more than 1,700 families in the first day, he said

McMurrey said he was struck by the devastation he saw and the people without homes or roofs or even clean water.

"It was pretty tragic," McMurrey said.

Covington and McMurrey worked until they had handed out all of their supplies. Then they continued their trip to Johnson City, Tenn.

The people they talked to surprised Covington with optimism, he said.

"It's going to take a while to get back to normal, but everybody over there seemed to think it was going to be a new normal, a better normal," he said.

Covington said he was glad he got the chance to put his years of disaster relief experience to use.

"I tend to think that's what we're here for: to help each other out," he said.