ABC’s Osunsami Captures Frustration in Tuscaloosa Tornado Aftermath

ABC Correspondent Steve Osunsami captures frustration of Tuscaloosa tornado victims, one of whom questioned President Obama’s pledge to help everybody who lost homes in the April 27th tornado. Issues of class in Tuscaloosa were exposed.

One week after the deadly tornado in Joplin, Missouri, one network news correspondent is exposing the class differences back here in Tuscaloosa about to become most apparent as shelters for victims of the April 27th tornado here close in June.

Shirley Billingsley told ABC News on Sunday she doesn't believe President Obama's pledge to help 'everybody' who lost everything in the April 27th tornado

You have to view ABC News Correspondent Steve Osunsami’s May 29th story to see the cries of 69-year-old Shirley Billingsley who questioned the sincerity of President Obama’s pledge during his April 29th Tuscaloosa visit to “help everybody.”

“That’s a lie,” Billingsley said.

Billingsley’s comments came on the same day that Obama visited Joplin, Missouri, where more than 120 people died in the May 22 storm.

“This is not just your tragedy. This is a national tragedy, and that means there will be a national response,” Obama said today in Missouri.

But, is the national response already underway here in Tuscaloosa ENOUGH for those who don’t have a place to go in the immediate future?

That’s the question that Osunsami’s report posed.   Even the headline that used for the story– “Alabama Still Suffering” makes the point crystal clear.

Today, Obama acknowledged that FEMA Chief Craig Fugate is the hardest working man in the federal government as he shuttles between Tuscaloosa and Joplin as well as other communities that have been hit by natural disasters.

The harsh words from Tuscaloosa for the man some have called “Healer-in-Chief” are eerily reminiscent of what we saw in the New Orleans flooding in 2005 as levees failed after Hurricane Katrina.  A disproportionate number of victims left stranded, many of died, were among the city’s poorest residents.

Osunsami Pegged The Problem on April 28

Today’s report follows the same theme as Osunsami’s April 28 report, one day after the Tuscaloosa tornado when he mentioned that those who were affected by the April 27th storm “had so little and lost so much.”

Locally, an editorial in The Tuscaloosa News last week shined the spotlight on the housing issue.

It’s not clear if either media outlet took cues from one another. But, I seriously doubt it given Osunsami’s earlier news reporting.

ABC News Southeast Correspondent Steve Osunsami Comforted Tornado Victim Claudia Key April 28 as she searched for family members.

I remember watching  ABC News Correspondent comfort Claudia Key, who was crying as she frantically searched for multiple relatives only hours after the storm hit.    You can tell then that this particular reporter understood the emotions that needed to be captured in telling this story.

He also understood the issues of class that were a theme in his latest story, which compared the experiences of families that have insurance and are ready to start rebuilding and those without insurance who are unsure of where they will stay once the tornado shelter closes.

His live reports last month on Good Morning America and World News Tonight  were often from 10th Avenue in and around Rosedale Court, a 59-year-old housing complex that reportedly was scheduled to be demolished as soon as this fall.

But residents like Billingsley in non-government housing along our city’s 10th Avenue corridor have not been able to find places to live.  Their frustration is now beginning to make national news.

You may recall in an earlier post, I questioned how long it would take national media to leave our community.  Clearly Osunsami and the producers at ABC News haven’t forgotten about us.

Maddox says SIX YEARS

Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox, seen here in a ride-along, told ABC News Sunday he thinks the recovery from April 27th tornado may take six years.

Osunsami’s report was, in part, based on a ride-along with Mayor Walt Maddox, who for the first time (that I can recall) indicated it will “probably” take  SIX YEARS for the city to recover from the April 27th tornado.

Before this report, I had not heard him estimate a long-term timeline for the city’s recovery.   The key qualifier, in Maddox’s comment was “probably.”

We certainly hope it won’t take that long.

As our entire Tuscaloosa community prepares to come together this Wednesday, June 1 for a candlelight vigil to remember those whose lives were lost in the tornado,  we need to be prepared to address the frustration that those who survived are facing.

I don’t think this will be the last national news report that looks at the “least of these” who were among the hundreds of families who lost everything.

Author: George Daniels

George L. Daniels is an associate professor of journalism at the University of Alabama. After spending eight years in the local television newsroom working as a producer at stations in Richmond, Virginia; Cincinnati, Ohio; and Atlanta, Georgia, Daniels moved from the newsroom to the classroom. He’s conducted research on diversity issues in the media workplace and change in the television newsroom as well as media convergence. Before going to work in television news, Daniels worked briefly as a freelance writer for The Richmond Free Press in his hometown of Richmond, Va.

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