This coming Sunday, the 27th, will mark the third anniversary of the tornado outbreak that occurred all over the South. I don't think there will ever be a year where I don't stop and reflect on where I was and what happened that day. This is a post that I wrote about a month after the Tuscaloosa tornado.
This is just a re-post of a post that I created shortly after the April 27th, Tuscaloosa Tornado. I don't intend to upset anyone or bring up bad memories. This day is one that I both want to forget and never forget, because it gives me a picture of God's grace and protection. This is only my account of that day. Although I didn't lose anything, my home for the past 5 years was torn apart. My thoughts and prayers are with those families who are still rebuilding and putting together pieces of their lives. My thoughts and prayers are also with those families who are without dearly loved and missed members of their families this holiday season: fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters.
Hard, scary, traumatic.
April 27th was a beautiful day.
Besides the fact that I had to spend the gorgeous, blue-skied day sitting in class after class, it was a good day.
We all knew the potential for bad weather later on in the day, but if it was going to be like the past few days, that was going to blow over with nothing really to talk about.
Sitting in one of my classes, I told one of my friends that she could come to my dorm if she wanted to and we could ride out the tornado together with my roommates.
I told her to come whenever, but that I still had one more class that afternoon unless it got cancelled.
Like usual, it didn't, so I was preparing to go to class.
Ten minutes before my class, I was sitting in my dorm living room with one of my roommates and my friend that came over.
We were watching James Spann on the news as he was covering a storm that was heading toward Cullman, Al. The town that one of my roommates is from. I decided to be a few minutes late to class, because I wanted to stay with her, make sure she was okay and to watch the storm to see what happened. The three of us were watching the TV, not really expecting anything, until we saw it. A funnel cloud form and eventually touch down in Cullman County. We watched as it quickly formed and then as it started making its way through the town. I remember seeing a radio tower fall as the tornado passed over it.
My roommate called her parents to make sure that they were okay. When I heard that they were, I decided to go ahead and go to class. I was going to be ten minutes late, but it was the last week before finals, so I figured that I needed to go.
I didn't take a rain jacket because it had not started raining yet and was still pretty blue outside. I walked to class through the wind and got into my class and saw that they were watching a movie. I immediately regretted my choice of coming to class. I sat down and literally about 10 minutes later, a girl speaks up and says that a tornado warning has been issued for the southern part of our county.
After deciding that we should go downstairs, our teacher makes us all file down into a small first floor area. The warning did not include our University yet, so we then found out it was okay to go back upstairs. Well, being the college students that we are, we all were debating what to do. Stay and review for the final or just forget about it and go home.
I decided to bail and go back to my dorm. Going to that class for literally 5-10 minutes was so not worth it. So, I along with the majority of my class, start walking our different directions. As I'm walking back to my dorm, I noticed that the wind had picked up and there were some sprinkles.
As soon as I got to the steps and porch of my dorm, the tornado siren goes off.
The rules of the dorm are, that if you hear the siren, you have to come downstairs. As I was walking in the building, I texted my friends upstairs and told them to come down. The siren then went off and the RA downstairs said for us to not worry about it, but that if we heard another one we should make our way to the first floor.
I get upstairs, put my book bag down, go to the bathroom and come back into the living room as another siren comes on. By this time, I'm just like really! Make up your freakin' mind! I did not want to go downstairs and sit in a hallway with tons of other girls for 3 hours. We had to do that a week before and it was not a pleasant experience. Apparently, when you are in a hallway with everyone else, this is when you are supposed to start being annoying and inconsiderate. Right, perfect timing guys...or should I say girls.
Anyways, we make our way to the first floor and find our spot in the corner that we had grown very fond of.
We make friends with some other girls that we had never met before and start talking. Well, then the phones start ringing, texts come in and talking increases throughout the hallway. We get messages from people asking if we are okay and others telling us there is a bad storm on the way.
We get online to see what is going on and find James Spann once again.
He is our great weather man! I am really glad that we have him doing weather for the area. He has helped and informed so many people! Props and kudos to him!
We are watching the live feed with about 9,000 other people watching online as well. They finally flash to a picture of the tornado heading into Tuscaloosa. I see my two friends who are watching it gasp and put their hands over their mouths. I was thinking, "I've got to see this." So, I leaned over the hallway and peered over her computer screen to see the monster that is coming toward us.
This is what we see.
And the last thing that we hear? That it is heading straight for the University of Alabama.
We all look at each other and pretty much just say that this is going to be a bumpy ride. But as we turn to face the wall and get into tornado position, that one that we learned back in kindergarten, we were all praying that God would keep us safe.
The lights flickered and then everything went black.
There was just the light of cell phones and the chattering of scared students.
We heard loud rushes of wind that we now know were the tornado. It came a mile away from my dorm.
When we were able to get outside, we saw that there was one tree down and thought that maybe the rest of our town had been spared as well. The power was out and phone lines down. We couldn't get in touch with anyone or find out any information.
We heard initial reports that the hospital was gone and that other parts of 15th Street were gone. The hospital turned out to be fine except for some busted windows.
15th Street however, was very hard hit. It was pretty much gone.
We debated about whether to go to a friends house that was over the River. They had no damage and still had power. Or if we should stay at the dorm. We ended up staying at the dorm that night, downstairs in the common living room. We ate Peanut Butter and talked and listened to different stories that we heard, not really knowing all the truth yet.
The next morning, we got up and packed some bags and went to my friend's house. We sat down in her living room and my other friend that was there asked if we had seen or heard anything.
It had been 12 hours since the tornado. For 12 hours we had been without power, little phone service, and no news. When we first saw the videos and the pictures, we thought it was unreal. There was no way that our town had just gotten taken out by a tornado.
But, it had.
For the next several hours, as much as we didn't want to continue watching the videos, news, or look at the pictures, we continued to. We couldn't take our eyes off of it. It was all so surreal.
Time seemed to slow. That first week after the tornado felt like a month. Classes had been suspended for the rest of the semester. We had the option to take our finals or take the grade we had in the class.
Graduation for those in May wasn't held.
For 6 students at the University of Alabama, tomorrow never came.
41 people in Tuscaloosa lost their lives and more than 200 in the state were killed.
Thousands lost homes.
Many were missing.
Shelters were set up, search and rescue teams were sent out. The state was declared to be in a state of disaster and emergency.
Although I didn't personally lose anything that day in the tornado. It was still my town. For the past 4 years I have called that place home and now it was destroyed.
For a couple of days I couldn't do anything, but watch the news and videos. And when that got tiring, a funny, Disney movie.
It was hard, scary, and traumatizing.
I finally got up, praised God that I was okay and that everyone I knew was okay. Talked to my parents and many others who called to check on me. And went out to lend a helping hand to those that had lost everything.
I went to Alberta City. I picked up shingles, dug through rubble, carried off limbs.
I helped separate what was to keep or throw away.
I went to Hargrove.
I saw 15th Street.
I served food at the Belk Center. I cooked food.
I went out with the American Red Cross to serve hot food to people in areas that hadn't been reached yet.
I did the only thing I knew to do. I served the people around me. I responded when called.
All of a sudden, the area of need wasn't a plane ride away. I could walk to it.
My mission field was a disaster.
It was where God called me.
Even though it was hard, scary, and traumatizing.
Now, three years later, much of the state has made great roads to recovery. Tuscaloosa is still growing and getting stronger. Parts of the city have been rebuilt, new land put down, and new buildings have gone up. Things look very different in parts of the city and even now when I drive through it, I have to think for a second about where I am. It definitely isn't the same city it was when I was there. But, it is still a city that I call home. That town means more to me than lots of others I've lived in. It will always be like home. And this will always be a weekend where I stop and reflect on what happened that day in history. I can only praise God for His protection.
Then & Now
Three Years Later
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