April 27, 2011

So I know it is not mommy related, but today I have a story to tell.  A story of one of the worst days of my life.  A story of tragedy, heartbreak, tears, recovery, and hope.  A story of how Tuscaloosa truly became my home!

So as many of you may or may not know, I attended the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa (Roll Tide)! However, only 11 months after moving to town, everything was taken from me.  The state of Alabama experienced it’s worst weather day in history.  There were 62 confirmed tornadoes across the state with roughly 250 fatalities.  These tornadoes amassed almost 700 cumulative miles of damage across Alabama.

The monstrosity that took on Tuscaloosa was one mile wide as it ripped right through the heart of town missing the University by less than one mile.  Anyone who has ever been to Tuscaloosa can tell you that the blood lines of town run right down McFarland Blvd. and 15th Street.  But by the end of the day I was completely lost walking down the street.

Street I had walked daily were unrecognizable.  Businesses on the main thoroughfares of town were demolished, some leaving absolutely no trace of their existence.

I was fortunate enough to go to a friend’s house who had a basement.  Oddly enough, neither of us were afraid of the weather.  We were simply bored and neither of us had much going on that evening so we just decided to be bored together.  Well God looks out for idiots cause for some reason I loaded up my cat, grabbed my backpack, computer, charger, debit cards and insurance cards.  (It was not until I could make it home almost 24 hours later that I would realize the significance of gathering the items I did.)  No sooner than I walked into her home, her father called.  She immediately looked at me and very calmly said “get downstairs, my dad just said there is a tornado on 15th Street.”  As we walked down the stairs the power went out and we both immediately began to grasp the severity of the situation.

Her house, being solidly built, muffled many of the sounds created by the weather; which after the fact was probably a good thing.  We were downstairs no more than a few minutes when everything got eerily silent.  We walked back upstairs and outside.  We could see only the house across the street, both ends of her normally busy street were barricaded by trees and debris.  After climbing through and making our way to the end of the street we realized we could see the hospital across town – a view normally made up of homes, student housing, trees, and local businesses.  Unfortunately this was not the worst part of my day.

It took almost 6 hours to get anywhere near my house, which I was only 1.5 miles from to begin with.  I waded through the debris, with the help of a wonderful stranger with a flashlight, to end up at my neighbor’s house.  I could see from their yard that I had no viable way into my house since it was pitch black and every doorway was blocked.  Eventually I made my way across town to another friend’s house for the night.

The next day my mom and my brother eventually made their way to me.  They also got lost driving down roads that had become all to familiar.  Luckily, after having experienced their own bad weather the day before, they were smart enough to load up water and fuel.  Having threatened the National Guard protecting my street, my mother was actually able to get closer to my house than I was (HAHA).  I walked up to my house to see my brother’s truck in the yard – my heart was flooded with relief!

For the next 7 hours my mother, my brother, myself, and many kind strangers sifted through debris, cut down tree limbs, moved furniture, and tried to piece my life back together.  Personally I would like to give a shout out to the people walking down the street with sandwiches and Gatorade!  It was not until you offered me a simple ham and cheese sandwich that I realized I had not eaten in almost 2 days – best sandwich EVER!

Over the course of the next few days I bounced from friends’ houses to hotels to wherever I could sleep.  Eventually I was able to move in early to my apartment for the following semester.  While finally having a roof over my head was a wonderful feeling, I was still without power and showering with cold water.  I had to sic my mom on the power company because they kept telling me that I was low priority since they were only helping tornado victims!  Well, my mom did what she is so good at and I had power about 15 minutes after she called them.  My life was finally beginning to resemble something familiar.

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My beloved town banded together.  People from all over the state joined forces in order to return from this tragedy.  Tuscaloosa is still rebuilding, but we are coming back stronger and better than ever.  It takes time to heal, but together it is possible.  It is because of this day, these memories, and the way these people made me feel that I call Tuscaloosa my home.  I have left and returned, and in all likelihood will probably leave again one day, but Tuscaloosa will forever be in my heart.

This day every year I cry at least once – good and hard! I think of how much I lost, and then I think of those who lost more. For one day to be so truly devastating, it is also empowering. It has made me stronger, more humble, thankful, and so proud to call Tuscaloosa my home. It forced a lot of people to make life long decisions in the span of a few days. It forced a community and a state to come together for complete strangers. It forced life to continue even though most days I felt like I could not.

I pray for the families of loved ones lost and I’m thankful for everyone who helped not only me, but my city, to carry on! You are the unsung heroes today.

Cheers mommas – this drink is for Tusacloosa!

Kristen

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3 thoughts on “April 27, 2011

  1. Very well written Kristen. I have lots of family there as well and a cousin shared her experience too. You know how she felt the next day when she saw her mom. All is very emotional. Kudos to you for sharing. Love you girl. Gayle

    Like

  2. I lived through this same tornado. I just want to tell you that you are a beautiful, strong survivor. I’m so glad to have read this, because I’ve been struggling this week with memories.

    Thank you for sharing your story.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I can truly sympathize dearlilyjune! My emotions have been running high this week also. It’s a hard day every year, but this year seemed especially tough. Finally sitting down and writing out my own story was extremely therapeutic. I am very glad that you liked it. If it helps just one person, even a little bit, I’m happy to share!

      Like

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