I’ve often looked at the Birmingham skyline during a storm and wondered what would happen if a tornado were to hit. Many have had that same thought, and many have regretted their curiosity as they watched what will probably be classified as an EF5 tornado, the largest and most violent of them all, tear through the area.
The scene from downtown was phenomenal. What initially looked like a large cloud covering nearly a quarter of the skyline turned out to be the tornado itself. Our tallest buildings looked like child’s toys against a swirling gray mass. The twister wasn’t just a storm; it was a great dark hand liberally knocking things out of its way like an errant child having a tantrum.
Many of the places I’ve known are gone. People I know have lost friends and family. And while I feel some survivor’s guilt (after all, a wall cloud did go over my house and I had no damage whatsoever) I feel even worse knowing that my fascination with tornadoes have kept me glued to the screen during outbreaks. I’d gawk in wonder at the beauty of the storm. But these particular storms were ugly, threatening. I’ve spent much of my time over the past two days questioning my fascination, wondering what’s wrong with me? I suppose it is the same as people slowing down to see a car crash. We have a morbid streak that keeps us fascinated.
The Tuscaloosa tornado was live on television. I watched the wall cloud, watched the funnel form, watched it reach down to the ground. I kept saying, “oh, my god, oh my GOD!” in excitement — until the debris started flying. I fell silent. It wasn’t until the radio tower toppled over and was sucked into the vortex that I truly realized what was going on.
I watch The Weather Channel. I watch chaser videos, where large wedges are spinning like crazy out in the open and everyone is cheering at the sight. But this…this was…bad.
Pleasant Grove. Cullman. Argo. Pratt City. Hackleburg. Berry. Coaling. Rosedale community in Tuscaloosa. These are the places that have made the news. Some are greatly damaged. Some communities are gone. My father, who heard the tornado pass by him, made a comment the next day while on the phone with me, discussing the ariel views on the television screen, “that could be a swimming pool. Or the slab of a house.”
Victims are going back to find their dead. Lonely children crying in the streets have been taken to shelters, their parents missing. Some towns are completely closed off to the public and television crews. There aren’t many stories of walking outside after the storm, and seeing bleeding, or dead, bodies. We hear about the survivors hiding in bathtubs as their houses fall apart around them, and then the camera turns to a fallen tree. The tragedy runs much, much deeper. Many are traveling from shelter to shelter looking for missing loved ones. In many cases it isn’t a matter of rebuilding a house, but rebuilding a life from the ground floor up. Those in the Midwest know what this is like. Here in the south, we’ve gained a new respect, and a renewed sense of awe. I believe the tornado sirens will cause a heightened sense of panic for quite some time.
The Tuscaloosa-Birmingham tornado is now rated as Alabama’s deadliest. The others that touched down on April 27th throughout the state are high on that list.
The Red Cross has opened a shelter in Boutwell Auditorium in downtown Birmingham and are accepting donations of non-perishable foods and clothing. The Red Cross has a page where people can list their names as “safe” for family members who may be looking. There is also a search function. Local police departments have special hotlines for missing victims. Many people were transferred to UAB and DCH in Tuscaloosa. Notices may be posted on Facebook. News affiliates have special pages on their websites for more information.
If you wish to help, please visit the American Red Cross online or call 1-800 -RED-CROSS, or text “REDCROSS” to 90999 for a donation of ten dollars. You can donate to the Salvation Army at www.salvationarmyusa.org. Specify that the donation go to “April 2011 tornado outbreak” For those in Alabama, you can make checks payable to “Neighbors in Need” or go to www.alredcross.org.
Many schools were affected and are in desperate need of supplies. Please contact the county school systems to see how you can help.
And finally, I wish to express my thanks to all of the news and weather personnel at all of our local stations for staying on the air, for hours upon hours, to keep us informed and safe. Thanks to the storm spotters and the National Weather Service. Many lives were saved due to your efforts.