I woke up in the early morning on Wednesday, April 27th to Jason moving the computer out of our room. He said that the storms had started to get bad and he was going to watch to make sure we were ok. The next thing I knew he was waking me up to tell me he was leaving for work so I didn’t think that they were very bad. But by the time I got up they had delayed schools for two hours meaning that Charlotte didn’t have school that day at all. I had a physical therapy appointment at 10 so Dad stayed home to keep Charlotte and met me in the parking lot with her at 11. The sky looked pretty bad but Jason had told me that things wouldn’t get really bad until 2 or 3 so I stopped by Chick Fil A and got us some lunch and went home.
By the time we got home I heard a tornado siren blaring and so I checked with Jason and he said that we were still ok. I sat Charlotte in her high chair with her nuggets, fries, and Chick-Fil-A sauce and turned on the tv’s. I was pretty frantic since I was home by myself. Although I’ve always kind of poked at Jason for having weather radar software on our computer I couldn’t have been more thankful for it that day. I had the radar pulled up on the computer and the tv’s blasting the news but still didn’t feel really comfortable. I rolled C’s chair into the den so I could see and watch the tv as well as the computer and ate lunch really quickly. I quickly grew pretty scared and kept calling Jason for updates. My stomach started to hurt when I saw video of a wall cloud with a possible tornado right over my parents office (where they both were) and the area near Jason’s work kept being mentioned as a possible tornado location also.
Jason told me that we would probably be fine in our closet and didn’t need to get under the stairs because the tornado’s were probably not going to hit us. He was monitoring all of this from his phone in the hallway at work because they had been put into their safe place as well. I was sometimes giving him (and my parents) more information than they had because I had the tv and internet handy. I threw our comforter and pillows in our closet and sat Charlotte down with some stuffed animals and the iPad playing Wonder Pets. For the first of many times in the next week I was so thankful for last year’s Mother’s Day gift of the iPad because it kept Charlotte entertained, quiet, and oblivious to what was going on around her.
It’s hard even writing about it now, three weeks later, because remembering it takes me right back to that place where I was so scared. I was in charge of Charlotte and I was terrified that we were about to get hit. I have always hated that we are kind of at the end of our neighborhood with no houses really between us and the west. For some reason I’ve always felt like houses between us and oncoming tornados would slow their progress and damage. In hindsight I now know that that is utterly false, if anything those extra houses held the tornado pick up momentum, but at that point I still thought that and was pretty scared to be the only one in charge.
When the tornados got close to our house and we were told to take cover I made sure that Charlotte, Luca, and I were all in the closet. The tv was blaring so that I could hear it through the wall and I was also streaming it live on my computer. I remember holding Charlotte’s little hand in mine and pulling the comforter over our legs and just praying that we would be ok. A few minutes later Jason let me know that it had gone north of us and that it was safe to come out. He said that the line was dead for an hour or two and that it would be ok to take C upstairs and put her into bed. Again, I’m so thankful that I can implicitly trust Jason with weather news because he always watches it like a hawk. Being able to trust him and go put Charlotte down for a nap helped make a stressful day a little more normal.
I decided to go ahead and take a shower since I hadn’t gotten up early for one that morning because of PT. Again, in hindsight, a very fortuitous decision that helped me feel a little more normal for a little while longer due to the power outage and loss of hot water that occurred that night. Jason came home from work in the break in the storms. When he got home I was sitting at the kitchen table going over my to-do list and schedule. He immediately pulled up lots of news and the radar on his computer with the tv on in the den. But he soon came in to where I was and set the computer down where we could both watch the live tower-cam video of the tornado hitting the city of Cullman. It was surreal to watch and heartbreaking. We knew lots of people in Cullman and were familiar with the downtown. As we watched it wreak destruction on the city it started to sink in that this might be a very bad day.
Honestly, Jason had been talking about this day for over a week and about how it was setting up to be a monster day for tornados. His weather forum buddies couldn’t decide if it was going to set up perfectly for storms or if it would all fall apart. But, in his opinion, this was the worst day he’d ever seen set up. If any of you have weather nuts for husband’s though you know that a lot of times they cry wolf. Weather is unpredictible and can change on a dime and a lot of times that Jason has said in the past that things were going to be bad, it was going to snow, etc, the weather hasn’t shown up. So I wasn’t really expecting it to be as bad as he said.
But when he came home early and we saw the footage from Cullman I started to get convinced. Like I said earlier, our home is not surrounded by houses on the west and I am always antsy about tornados so I wanted to go to my parents who live nearby and have a basement. As soon as Charlotte woke up from her nap we packed up enough to get us through the night (since we were anticipating the storms lasting until 9 or 10) and headed down to their house. At the last second Jason threw in his hand crank radio and hand crank flashlight although he says that he definitely didn’t think he would even come close to needing them.
Not long after we got to their house the sirens started again and we decided that we would all be safest staying in the basement for the next little while. We carried down our computers and phones along with a blanket and pillows and some drinks. Jason brought down his radio and Dad brought down the box with the battery powered tv that Mom bought all of us probably five years ago. We got Charlotte set up again and were a happy little nest for a little while with one of us on an iPad and all other four on our own laptops.
Throughout the next hour or so the guys would go up occasionally to look outside and we were all keeping up with the weather ourselves. Around 4:30 or a little later Jason told Mom and I to pull up ABC 33/40 on our computers. He said that there was a tornado getting close to Tuscaloosa. We did and all three of us watched in horror as we watched the tornado demolish the city that we love. While it was hard watching the storm hit Cullman earlier in the afternoon, watching the tornado take out a sizable chunk of Tuscaloosa was horrifying and heartbreaking. Not only did we know a few people who were there, we had six cousins in town as well as too many friends to count. We know Tuscaloosa’s layout by heart and as it came through we knew exactly what it was hitting. Even watching it on their feed we couldn’t imagine the damage that was occurring right then and the lives that were being lost and totally decimated.
Not long after the feed from Tuscaloosa was lost (or perhaps in the middle of it, my timing isn’t perfect now) we lost power. We got the flashlights out and Mom lit some candles before we realized that we were pretty much out of danger and could go upstairs and use the remaining daylight. I never really thought that we would lose power and once it went off I couldn’t imagine that it would be off for long. I was so sure that it was a short fluke in our neighborhood that I even tweeted the local power company to let them know that our area was out in case they were trying to identify the area’s where they needed to send workers.
I think that in some ways the power going out was a saving grace. We were spared a lot of images of the damage nearby and far away other than what we could pull up on our phones and while we saw a lot on our phones our service quickly turned horrible and the ability to download photos and videos was very slow and trying. I think if we had been able to see all of that right away without hearing filtered versions of it on the radio first that it might have been more than I, at least, could take. As it was, we cooked a big dinner on the grille with food that would spoil immediately and eventually went to bed.
We were so very lucky on April 27th. We had no property damage — even the condo in Tuscaloosa had no damage. We were all safe. Our family in Tuscaloosa was safe and although we eventually heard of a number of friends who had very close calls and lost everything, they were safe as well. At the end of the day all that we had lost was power which is a need that you can live without if prepared and most of our modern forms of communication which you can definitely live without. I am so thankful that more wasn’t lost to us but I am still heartbroken at all of the lives that were changed forever on this day.
In most areas it will be easy to move on. I would guess that most of the country has already forgotten that we had major damage on April 27th in Alabama. In our city things are back to normal — grocery stores are fully stocked, there are no lines for gas, and other than a few incidental outages we all have power. But there are lots of people still digging out. Still searching through rubble for valuables. Still working each and every day to try and put together a semblance of the life that they had on April 26th. And for those people the task of rebuilding still stretches in front of them in an endless road.
I think most people in Alabama and throughout the South were changed on April 27th. I know that I will make sure and keep a good stock of flashlights and batteries on hand from now on. If we ever get to build a house we will definitely have a storm shelter installed as well as a generator. And honestly, the cost of getting a generator installed in our home now doesn’t seem as outrageous and unnecessary as I would have thought. I will pay much more attention to Jason when he tells me that severe weather is on the horizon and I will constantly pray that a day like that will never happen again.
And for many cities, they will never look the same. It’s been said that it will probably take at least six months for the destruction in Tuscaloosa to be fully cleaned up and I would guess that it will take years and years before things are rebuilt fully in the damaged areas. Hackleburg, AL was basically wiped off the map. Businesses are gone. People are without any possessions. Families lost their loved ones who will never be replaced. Please pray for everyone affected by these storms. Pray for healing and help and love and understanding in the days and weeks and months and years to come. The damage will run deep and will take a very long time to recover from.