Tuscaloosa, Alabama - After the Tornado.
Tuscaloosa, Alabama, is a bustling town in the central-west part of the state. Sitting along the Black Warrior River, and Home of the University of Alabama, it is also known as T-Town.
My husband is currently enrolled at the University of Alabama’s graduate program. Although most of his coursework is done online, he must make weekly trips In order to attend class on campus. Living 216 miles south east of Tuscaloosa, it takes approximately 3 ½ hours to make the drive.
On the morning of April 27, 2011, he was preparing to leave when his instructor called and canceled the class due to severe weather predictions. I have never been so grateful for a phone call. If he had attended class that day, he would have just left campus to come home, and driven directly into the path of the EF5 tornado that devastated the city of Tuscaloosa.
I have been to Tuscaloosa many times, and love the city. I was, as were people all over the country, in shock at the size, destruction, and the death toll the tornado left. People from all over the country responded quickly with donations of food, water, money, and anything else that was needed.
On June 5, 2011, 38-days after the tornado, my husband and I drove to Tuscaloosa; he was starting a new class, and I was going to visit friends that lived there, and experienced the tornado first hand.
What I saw as I drove through the town, and heard from my friends, as-well-as others, was simply – unbelievable. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. I hope through the pictures I took, and the stories I heard, to share something of the grit, and durable spirit of the people of Tuscaloosa.
Rosedale Community of Tuscaloosa
The Rosedale community of Tuscaloosa is one of the older sections of town. Commonly known as the low-income neighborhood, most residents did not own the homes they occupied, nor could they afford rental insurance. When the tornado came through this neighborhood, it destroyed people’s homes and everything they owned.
Many houses were totally destroyed; others were damaged to the point of unrepairable and uninhabitable. All homes that remained after the tornado were inspected and tagged by city inspectors. A red tag indicates the building is unsafe and will be razed. Former residents are not allowed inside the building due to unsafe conditions. A yellow tag indicates that the building is not fit to inhabit but safe enough for residents to get their belongings. A green tag indicates the house is damaged but habitable.
The homes in the Rosedale Community fall under the red and yellow tagged categories, very few are inhabitable. For the most part, Rosedale will have to be totally rebuilt if it is to be built at all.
Tuscaloosa, the fifth largest city in Alabama.
Many apartments dot the landscape around Tuscaloosa, and most of them are home to students who attend the University of Alabama. Older homes that surround the campus were often rented to students, as well. The April 27, tornado skirted the university campus leaving only minimal damage to campus buildings, but massive destruction to apartments, homes, and businesses in its wake.
Tuscaloosa is the fifth largest city in Alabama and is growing rapidly. It has been named one of the best places to start a business, and one of the best places to raise a family in the state. Many new neighborhoods have sprung up bringing the need for new schools and businesses.
Two of these schools were heavily damaged and will need to be rebuilt. The University Place School and the Alberta Elementary Schools were almost totally destroyed.
A friend, and student at the University told me, “I was in the closet with my cat, the sirens were blaring and I could hear the roar of the tornado. I thought, I’m going to die today, and then the power went off.”
Another friend was driving home from work when he saw the tornado crossing the highway.
“It tossed cars and trucks like toys and then smashed into houses on the other side of the highway.”
Alberta Elementry School
Ashland Area of Tuscaloosa
Even after 38 days
Two things that had me dumb-struck as I drove through these affected areas was the amount of devastation and destruction even after 38 days, and the smell. There were piles of debris everywhere, and some homes and automobiles looked as they did the day of the tornado. Piles of debris stood over 6-ft tall along the streets. The smell reminded me of being in a musty old house that hasn’t been lived in for a while. Some places had a strong odor of something rotting, which I could only assume was food left in tumbled and mangled refrigerators. The smells were unpleasant but not unbearable. I learned later that sinus and respiratory ailments have increased substantially in the area.
Driving by a local church, I noticed a group of what appeared to be relief workers. I decided to stop and talk to a few of them. What I found were predominately church members, some of which had been working dawn to dusk since the day of the tornado. The church was badly damaged; windows boarded up, partially collapsed walls, and a red tag nailed to plywood covering what was once the front door. A travel trailer was parked in the parking lot with two large tents set up in front of it. Tables underneath were filled with clothes, bottles of water and boxes filled with non-perishable food. People were coming by car and walking to take whatever supplies they needed – and this was 38 days after the tornado!
I met Jennifer Mills, worship leader of the Alberta Baptist Church, and her husband Bruce. They had been in the church when the tornado hit preparing for the Wednesday evening service. Once everything was over, they stepped outside the church to something that looked like a war zone.
“If you think it looks bad now,” commented Bruce, “you should have seen it that day.”
“A family, who were membersof the church, lived 3-houses down,” said Jennifer “It took 25 minutes to crawl over and through the rubble to get to them. What you see now is wonderful compared to what it was.”
I could not even imagine!
The Mills’ said a lot of churches from all over have come to help. Others have sent truckloads of aid. The travel trailer was donated by Cottage Hills Ministries in Mobile, Alabama for as long as they need to use it. They have gotten donations from World Vision and Samaritan’s Purse, as well as, individuals and churches from as far away as Michigan and Texas.
“Most of the help has been from the Mobile area,” Jennifer explained, “they feel they were given so much aid after Hurricane Katrina, and this is their time to give back.”
One group from Mobile was giving free haircuts to residents; another group from a church in Nashville was working clearing debris.
I asked Jennifer what the greatest need was at this time.
“We have plenty of clothing and water, what these people need now are the essentials. These families are moving into new apartments or homes and they have lost everything. They need bed linens, towels, kitchen items, things we may not think of.”
I asked when she thought the church would be repaired or rebuilt.
“It’s going to have to be rebuilt totally. We will rebuild, but it will take 2-years to fully recover from this.”
That seems to be the general feel in the area. Two years to fully recover. The hum of generators can be heard all around, and the sound of workers repairing homes and businesses, and trucks loading and hauling off endless loads of debris.
The people of Tuscaloosa agree that Mayor Walter Maddox is doing a tremendous job.
“The Mayor required every city employee to attend disaster management training a year ago, that training was worth its weight in gold.” One resident explained. “After the tornado was gone and the sirens stopped, every city employee knew where to go and what to do. Everything went like clockwork.”
Tuscaloosa will rebuild, it will take time but the people are determined. There is a saying in Tuscaloosa, and from what I saw on June 5, 2011, it stands true.
“T-Town, Never Down”
Satellite before and after pictures
Sports Illistrated article
- On April 27 the most devastating tornado - 05.23.11 - SI Vault
TERROR, TRAGEDY AND HOPE IN TUSCALOOSA