The Day My World Was Turned Upside Down
A Day to Be Remembered
For three days weather forecasters advised everyone in my area of Alabama of the impending severe weather. It appeared from reports by the meteorologists that all weather components (10 of them to be exact) were lining up to produce severe and devastating weather fronts to cross several states. With each additional weather forecast the predictions became more and more serious.
April 27, 2011, began as a sunny and very warm day—neither of which was working in our favor. This type weather only fed an already ravenous tornado that began far to the west of us. As I sat in my second-story office with three large windows, two of which face the west, I listened to the weather forecast and followed the storm on radar. With each passing hour I became more concerned because I feared many people would not take the warnings seriously. Severe storms are a norm where I live, so many times these tornados either never touch down or do so in largely unpopulated areas. Unfortunately this was not to be the case this time.
County and city schools were closed all day in Tuscaloosa and surrounding counties, but the University of Alabama, where I work, chose to remain open. Around 3 p.m. the sunny weather took a serious change for the worse, and I began to think about where to take shelter on campus. I was also concerned about other staff, faculty and students. The safe shelter of my work building is on the first floor in the center of the building, which was built in 1936, a place I have gone numerous times. This time wondered if it really would survive what may be “the big one.”
Around 4 p.m. the sirens began to sound, police cars drove the streets with their sirens, e-mail announcements were sent out and announcements were made on the PA system advising everyone to seek shelter in the lowest and most central part of the buildings. Together my coworkers and I huddled and followed the storm on a laptop as it made its approach to Tuscaloosa. The sheer size of the tornado was unbelievable. This is the fourth tornado I have gone through, and I thought I had experienced tornados … until now. As the storm approached we watched from a webcam whose camera was perched on the city’s courthouse as the debris in the funnel increased. The tornado seemed to encompass the entire sky. As the storm reached the City of Tuscaloosa I could hardly believe my eyes. Then the screen went blank.
To my horror I saw about a dozen students standing outside our front door watching for the tornado. I ran to them, pushed my way out the door and checked the sky. I immediately heard the all-too-familiar sound that some describe as a train, but this is really not a true description. I am at a loss for words to adequately describe what an F4, 190 mile-per-hour tornado sounds like. I told the students to go inside, explaining that the sound they heard was the tornado just to the south of campus. Thankfully they listened. For what seemed like hours we tried to connect with the outside world via radio, cell phones and computers. Shortly after 5 p.m. we were allowed to leave campus.
For the next two hours I exhausted all possible routes to my home. I seemed to be driving on automatic pilot, going places I knew were impassable yet unable to avoid. Upon arriving home I found I had only two downed trees, one that fell across my boat. All in all people in my neighborhood were safe, and we could help one other clear a path out. After checking on neighbors and my brother in Centreville (who had minor storm damage) and finding all alive and well I scrambled for a flashlight and settled down for the night. All I knew to do was to give thanks and pray.
Thursday morning would have been one of the most beautiful daybreaks I’d ever seen had it not shown so brightly on the massive destruction and throngs of people walking and looking for their loved ones, homes and anything they could find to hold onto their past lives. We all knew at that point nothing would ever be the same. All of our lives had suddenly been drastically and forever changed.
All precautions were immediately put into place, such as curfew, blocked roads and first responders only access. Emergency relief agencies began to arrive, and neighbors and students—who could have gone home because the university had closed for the semester—began helping one another. The outpouring of much-needed items, concern, love and hard work has been simply amazing. Roads remain closed. Cleanup will take months, maybe even years. While rescue efforts have stopped, the search for the missing has not.
Families who lost loved ones had to deal with not only the funeral process but with storm recovery as well. Our loss of students has devastated the university community.
Where there were houses and lives on Wednesday afternoon, today there are concrete slabs and piles of rubbles. Where there were beautiful forests, today a piles of toothpicks. Where there was laughter and the sound of children playing, today there is quiet. Where there was business as normal, now there are only questions.
State and federal agencies have promised aid. Churches have all immediately pitched. People who may have lived next door to one another and never spoken are now truly neighbors.
As I was leading the United Methodist Women spiritual growth study I Believe in Jesus on Monday night, I shared my hope that as we come together and help one another we also ask for help from the one who can provide us with real hope, with peace and with the strength to overcome all things.
An elementary school friend of mine reminded me yesterday in an e-mail of my favorite Bible verse, and I would like to share that with all who have weathered the storms of life. To this we should cling: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 NIV).