Two days ago, one of the deadliest tornadoes in recent history came through my hometown of Tuscaloosa, Alabama. In a word, it was horrific. And my heart is broken for the people there. Thankfully, my family lives in Northport, a hop away from the heart of the damage, but I have several friends whose homes have sustained incredible damage, and who I know had to be out of their mind scared when those storms came through.
After work on Wednesday, bracing for yet another bout of bad weather here in Nashville but hearing that tornadoes were coming through Tuscaloosa, I called my parents to make sure they were in their "safe place" in the house, a place I actually have memories of going to several times as a child with pillows, blankets, flashlights and weather radio in hand. Tornadoes were actually a pretty common occurrence where we lived. But we never experienced anything like this.
I could hear the fear in my mother's voice when she said three tornadoes were on the ground, and one that was estimated to be a mile wide was very close by. Trying to sound strong and positive, I told her to take cover with my Dad and Dixie, my dog from college who now lives a life of luxury with them, and to call me after it passed. By the grace of God, they did just that, and I immediately felt a sense of relief in hearing they were okay. Only by this time, I watched in horror as the most ominous, evil-looking tornado appeared on The Weather Channel, and blacked out half of Birmingham, the city where I went to college, just as I turned it on.
To say it was surreal to see Tuscaloosa and Birmingham, places that are so close to my heart and where many friends of mine still reside, on national news, is a massive understatement. But hearing numerous weathermen say this was the worst tornado they had ever seen only heightened the fear I felt at seeing this actually take place in front of me on the television. Words can't describe the shock and awe I felt, or the hit-my-knees thankfulness I had that as far as I knew, my loved ones had been spared.
But what I saw in the hours following was what really did me in. The devastation, as the mayor put it, was "catastrophic." Entire neighborhoods were erased from the map. Longstanding local establishments, like the Krispy Kreme where I would get to see doughnuts coming fresh off the conveyor belt, were destroyed. McFarland Boulevard, one of the city's main streets and one that I've traveled at least 1000 times, was one of the hardest hit roads, and I could hardly even recognize it. University of Alabama students who lived in nearby Forest Lake, a neighborhood I too had lived in after college, looked perplexed as they began to realize their homes were gone.
It was absolutely heartwrenching, and yet, even though my heart broke and my eyes were wide with shock, I couldn't bring myself to stop looking at the photos. I couldn't bring myself to blog about it yesterday, because I wanted to make sure every single person I knew was okay first. And thank the Lord, they are. They are shaken, but they are strong. And the city is already pulling together, helping out, and making me so very proud to claim Tuscaloosa as my own.
These are a few images taken from our local paper, The Tuscaloosa News.
To show you how close to home this really is, that last picture is of my friend, Chris Gaddy, in the blue shirt. He and I went to high school together and planned our 10 year reunion a few years ago. I just saw him last fall on campus at one of the Alabama football games. Unreal that he is pictured right there in the heart of it.
President Obama is walking through the devastated areas right now. I am so glad to see a sense of urgency and respect for doing whatever it takes to get Tuscaloosa back on its feet. Know that you are being covered in prayers, people of Tuscaloosa. With 42 dead and nearly 1000 injured, I cannot imagine what it must be like to have your world turned upside down like this. But like the mayor said, there will be areas of the city that are hurting for a very long time, but I am confident our great city will rise even stronger.