Two years ago today I disregarded my family's warnings of bad weather.
Two years ago today I sat in a pantry with my roommates.
Two years ago today I walked out of my house to complete chaos.
Two years ago today my beloved Tuscaloosa was ravaged by an EF4 tornado.
Two years ago today my life was changed.
April 27, 2011 started out as normal as any other day. Margarett came to pick me up for Mass Comm and we drew pictures all through class not paying attention. We went to Chipotle after for lunch, because let's face it Chipotle is awesome. My Gran called me to tell me that the weather was going to get bad and to be safe, but we had been having tornado warnings for the last three weeks and I just wasn't worrying with it. Margarett drove to the Kangaroo Express gas station to grab 2 cases of beer and then we went to her apartment to grab her tornado essentials. (teddy bear, Bible and MacBook) Necessities people. We went back to my house where I lived with Derik, Meagan, Joe and their dog Charley. We watched James Spann's twitter feed like our lives depended on it. Little did we know our lives actually did depend on it. Margarett ended up leaving to go to a friends house in Northport because she had a gut feeling. I had numerous ex-boyfriends, friends and even more family text me telling me to be safe. Of course I just shrugged it off. My Gran called again to tell me to put the couch cushions in the pantry just in case. I told her I was drinking and didn't want to be bothered with Mother Nature.
30 minutes later the tornado sirens started wailing and Spann came on the TV telling us to get in our safe place. Meagan ran upstairs to get the boys off of the balcony and I ran outside to tell our neighbors to get inside. Meagan was on the phone with her dad most of the time. The last thing I remember is pulling our front door as hard as I could so it would shut, Joe ripping out the extra shelf in our pantry, all of us climbing in the pantry, me praying as hard as I could and holding on to Charley for dear life, and the lights went out. No more James Spann on the TV telling us where the tornado was. The last thing that Meagan's daddy heard her say before she lost signal was "Daddy I can hear it I'm scared" and me bawling in the background. We heard a tree go through our roof seconds before we heard the tornado. Everybody says tornados sound like a train. In a way they do, but mostly they sound like a street sweeper. A street sweeper that makes your ears pop and tears up your entire city. It was over in two minutes, but those two minutes were the longest two minutes of my life.
We came out of our house and looked around. We could still see the tornado tearing through Tuscaloosa a little ways away. Their were tree branches everywhere in our loop of houses. A tree went through our roof. A tree went through one of the houses at the front of our loop. I tried to call my grandparents. No cell phone signal. Some people were able to get Twitter to load on their phones and were getting information about where the tornado had gone through. 15th Street. McFarland Boulevard. Forest Lake. I saw one of my ex boyfriends running for his truck. He was dating a girl in the loop of houses I lived in. Different story for a different time. I ran over to ask what was wrong and he told me that his house was gone and that his roommate and his girlfriend were in the house. That's when it hit me. "YOUR HOUSE IS GONE!?!?!" Gone. Cue hysteria.
We walked to Hargrove to see what was going on. A house across from us had a huge oak tree through the middle of it. We went over to check on the little old lady that lived there. Her neighbor came out to tell us she was with them in the basement and was fine. Whew. We looked to the left. Another huge oak tree down in the middle of Hargrove Road. If that tree hadn't been there we would have been able to see the that the huge church around the corner was gone and so were the majority of the houses. A football field and a half. That's what separated me from life and death. Finally I was able to get through to my Gran and Pops. They were both in tears and getting ready to drive to Tuscaloosa to find me. To find me. Dead or alive. Find me. Actually writing that out for the first time has brought me to tears. I assured them I would be home after finals and that everything would be fine, that I was okay.
Derik, Meagan, Joe and I decided to walk to the gas station past the big oak tree to get ice to keep our milk and beer cold. Duh. We got to the gas station...and it was without a roof and all of the houses behind it in Forest Lake didn't look any better. Okay...turn around. It's getting dark anyway. We get back to our house and decide to take all of our meat and grill it. Everybody in our little circle of houses were getting together talking about what had just happened and drinking. I swear I drank at least a 12 pack after the tornado and I could not get drunk. I could not erase everything that I had seen. So we ate, drank and charged our phones in our cars since we were still without power. That night we fell asleep with our balcony doors open listening to the sirens and helicopters flying over.
The next morning I woke up hoping it had all been a very bad dream. We grabbed a bag and put water bottles in it and started out for our walk to see what exactly had been destroyed. The apartments on the right side of the street were completely untouched, while the houses on the left side had multiple floors missing from some of them. An entire outside wall had been ripped off of another apartment building, yet the bed inside remained made and books still on the shelf. We got to 15th Street....the McDonalds was gone. The Taco Casa was gone. Hokkaido, gone. Oil change place, gone. Everything was gone. We continued walking towards McFarland Boulevard and started smelling gas. I cried. I had to stop and get myself together. I had barely talked to any of my friends. Were they okay? Who was missing? Who had died? Who lost everything? I was a wreck. We walked back around all the way down Hargrove. Everything was gone. As we walked back into the loop where our house was I saw Margarett walking toward me. How had she gotten there? At that moment I didn't care. I ran to her. We hugged. Cried. Swapped stories about what we knew so far. She had walked all the way from Northport to make sure we were okay. I cried more.
At this point I knew I needed to get out of Tuscaloosa. I was out of gas though. OF COURSE. SHIT. I didn't care. I'd call AAA to bring me gas if I didn't get to a gas station that had gas before I ran out. I packed my things. All of my things I needed for the summer. I knew deep down inside I wouldn't be coming back to take finals. Everything went in my car and I left. As we were pulling out I saw a bunch of people I knew from back home at the front house and got out. Matt and Aaron's house was gone. Their cars were totaled. But they were okay. At that moment my phone buzzed. A new e-mail. Finals cancelled. Everybody go home if you can. Go somewhere else besides Tuscaloosa. You don't have to go home, but it would be best if you didn't stay here. Back in the car I go. It took me 45 minutes to get to the road I needed to be on to even start my actual trip out of Tuscaloosa. Thank God the gas station was open and had gas. I filled up. Back on the road.
When I got to Mobile I stopped at my Granny's house. I hadn't seen her since Thanksgiving. She hugged me and I cried more. When I finally got back home to Spanish Fort my Gran came running out of the front door (not really running, more like wobbling. She had just had hip surgery a month before). More crying and hugging. My Pops looked like he had been through hell. I sat in his lap and cried some more. I was home. I was safe. I was alive. There were 348 people who could not say the same. 348 people had died from the tornado outbreaks of April 27, 2011. I was lucky. There was no reason I had been spared. Why was I alive while others weren't? I felt guilty for living. I stayed in bed watching coverage on the news for 3 days. Crying. I was miserable.
Nobody will ever truly know what the people of Tuscaloosa and surrounding areas went through that day. I have attempted to tell my story here, but it will never touch what actually happened and how we felt. Tuscaloosa welcomes you, April 27th, back around this year. We haven't gone anywhere. You should see how we've grown. Tomorrow you will be gone. But we will still be here.
Video taken by my neighbors
T-Town NEVER down!