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'These people are struggling'

Trovon Reed knows something about natural disasters. He got a closeup view of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 in his hometown of Thibodaux, La. But not even that prepared him for what he saw Friday in Pleasant Grove.

Some 70 Auburn coaches, administrators and athletes, including some 15 football players, visited Cullman and Pleasant Grove to help with cleanup in the wake of Wednesday’s killer tornadoes.

“It was a disaster,” said Reed, a redshirt freshman wide receiver. “We saw so many folks without their homes. ... Katrina was bad, but we had water These people are struggling and don’t even have water. From house to house, I saw a whole block that was gone. Being out here helping is a big thing.”

In Pleasant Grove, football coach Gene Chizik, athletics director Jay Jacobs, associate women’s basketball head coach, other assistant coaches, and football players spent the day at Pleasant Grove First Baptist Church and at Bethel Baptist Church. They delivered clothes and more than 500 cases of Gatorade and bottled water to the shelter set up at Bethel Baptist.

They also cleaned up debris outside and inside First Baptist Church, which received substantial damage. Chizik, Reed and sophomore defensive tackle Jeffrey Whitaker were among those who walked along 7th Avenue in Pleasant Grove, one of the hardest hit areas in the state, where numerous homes stood in ruins. They visited with families who had suffered major losses.

Chizik had been in New York city less than 24 hours earlier to see former Tigers Cam Newton and Nick Fairley go in the first round of the NFL draft.

“It was devastating,” Chizik said. “I don’t even think you can accurately describe it to somebody - the enormity. You have to see it. To see families displaced, lives lost, this is absolutely tragic. We’re just trying to give back.”

Whitaker said he and his teammate delivered a message of hope and faith.

“We believe in a God, and we’re going to keep praying for them,” Whitaker said. “We’re trying to help them to keep their confidence up. We’re praying for them.”

In Cullman, the first stop was at the Cullman Civic Center, where the group unloaded water and Gatorade.

Later, the group went to a hard-hit residential area and went to homes to work. They removed trees from cars, cleared debris and moved furniture out of a house.

“I think it’s important that we all bond together in circumstances like this,” Chizik said. “This is a tragedy. We weren’t put on this earth to be served, but to serve. It’s important for us to come out to give back to communities in need, and certainly this community is in need.”

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