Sunday, May 22, 2011

Seeing the Tuscaloosa Tornado Damage in Person

Wednesday, April 27th, was a day that God did not intend for me to die. As Jackie and I sat at my parents' house (because they have a basement), we watched the storm coverage on TV.

I remember the exact moment that huge, ugly, twisting funnel of air moved into the frame of the camera. "There it is!" exclaimed the weatherman.

I couldn't believe what I was seeing. I glanced at the clock, and realized what time it was. Had that awful storm hit on a Tuesday or Thursday, I would have been on campus. Actually, it would have been about the time for me to leave, so I would have been in my car, most likely driving down 15th Street to McFarland.

I would have been right in the twister's path. That is a chilling thought.

Soon damage reports started coming in, and I was hearing about so many places that I'd eaten and shopped at. Now they were gone. I often times would go to the Milo's on McFarland and then go browse around in Big Lots and Hobby Lobby during my lunch break.

Then I thought about my old apartment on 5th Avenue East between 15th Street and Hargrove Road. From the pictures I saw online, it looked like the EF-4 missed my old building by a matter of blocks.

I wasn't able to go back to Tuscaloosa for a little while, but when I did, I could not believe what I saw. The pictures on TV and in the paper could not do it justice. I almost didn't realize I was at the intersection of McFarland and 15th Street because it didn't look the same. 

My mind had a hard time integrating the images of destruction I was seeing all around me with the images in my memory.

Driving down 15th, I was shocked at how far I could see. Sitting at one light, I realized that I could see all the way to the Home Depot, which was really far away. You would never have been able to see it before because the trees had blocked it.

As I was leaving Tuscaloosa, I decided to see if I could get down my old road. I hung a right at what was left of the McDonald's on the corner. The debris had been pushed to the curb, and the road was open. I crept along, looking at all of the houses that I had driven by so many times. Only now, most of them were unrecognizable.

One house was already having a new roof built. On the side of the lumber the name "Traywick" was spray painted. I had a flashback to when I got to go to Enterprise when a tornado hit that southern Alabama community. I was an intern at NBC13 then, and I went down with reporter Karen Lehane. We interviewed a woman whose house had been hit. Her last name was Trawick. Although the names were spelled differently, they were close enough for me to find it and eerily odd connection.

As I got closer to my old apartment, I realized that I had been wrong about how close it came. What I thought was several blocks was actually just one street. The tornado was one street away.

The apartment building suffered roof damage, which was covered with black plastic. Many of the cars in the parking lot were damaged. The towering trees that had stood just feet away from my bedroom window were gone.

I thought about what it would have been like to have been in my old apartment when the storm hit, riding it out in the bathroom there. And I know my imagination can't do it justice.

As I headed back to Calera, I thanked God for protecting all of those that I know and love and for sparing my home.

I didn't take any pictures that day. I don't need them. I will never forget what I saw.

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