A First Hand Look At The Alabama Tornado Disaster & How You Can Help
[The following story is written by University of Alabama student and CollegeCandy beauty blogger, Caitlin, who experienced last week's devastating tornado from the safety of her apartment bathroom.]
When I look back on April 27, 2011, I’m nothing short of amazed at how your whole world can be changed in a few minutes. Like every regular Wednesday, I woke up early, made coffee, and did homework since I don’t have classes until 2:00 pm. I usually go to the AOII house for lunch, but I had a lot of work to do and decided to stay at my apartment in Midtown. While finishing up my short story for my creative writing class, I kept checking my email to see if classes were canceled since I knew the weather was going to be bad later that day. The only news I received was that my poetry teacher canceled the conferences we were supposed to have that afternoon.
I got out of class at 3:15 and by 3:30 I was at my car when I noticed the sky was starting to get dark. It was extraordinarily creepy out. I never take 15th Street home, but Paul Bryant was a little backed up, so I took it that day. I remembered I needed to stop at Rack Room in Midtown to get nude pumps for Birmingham Fashion Week, which in hindsight was a stupid stop to make, but none of us knew what was going to happen. They almost didn’t let me in because the weather was picking up, but I ran in, grabbed a pair, paid, and left. I was going to park in the lot behind my apartment since I hate making that illegal left turn out of the Midtown shopping center onto 5th Avenue. I really didn’t want to drive around, but I did and parked in our deck.
When I got home, my roommate Kelly had the news on and was sitting in the living room. She had picked up flashlights on her way home earlier, just in case. I was going off about how much stuff I had to do and trying to figure out when I needed to go to Birmingham on Thursday for Fashion Week. Then James Spann was on the screen talking about how this storm was a big one. Kelly said, “I think I’m going to put some pillows in the bathroom.” We gathered pillows, blankets, candles, flashlights, snacks, and our laptops. We got situated and sent some texts to our parents, letting them know we were huddled up in the bathroom. My boyfriend, Chris, texted me and told me he was safe at the fraternity house. James Spann alerted us that a tornado touched down in the area. We started getting nervous. “The tornado is on Skyland.” Power out.
I slammed the bathroom door, and Kelly and I jumped into the bathtub. All of a sudden, our apartment was shaking, and we heard what sounded like the largest freight train on earth. While it only lasted for about thirty seconds, it felt like forever. We waited for a bit in the tub hoping it was over. Hearing voices outside, I went to the window to check. People were coming out of nowhere and the cars where I was planning on parking earlier all had their windows blown out. Some weren’t there anymore. There was a lot of commotion in the hallway, so we opened the door and our neighbors told us to go to the front of the building.
Directly across the street where houses used to stand, I saw flattened houses and trees snapped like toothpicks. There were trees and debris everywhere and the windows at the front of our complex were gone. Half the roof was torn off, and the courtyards were ripped up as well. We made our way to the top of our parking deck and looked out over what used to be our city. If you didn’t know where things were before, you wouldn’t be able to tell what was what. Businesses and homes were completely gone. Kelly and I raced down the stairs and into our unit, putting on tennis shoes so we could go see the damage, not knowing how bad it truly was. We made our way to 15th Street. Dodging power lines and rubble, we walked around trying to take in what happened. I was sick to my stomach to see my town destroyed. I couldn’t grasp what was going on. I saw what was formerly McDonald’s, Taco Casa, Hokkaido, the Express Oil Change at the intersection of 5th Avenue and 15th Street completely demolished. As far as I could see, the houses that used to be there were gone.
[Click on any image to see photos of the devastation in our gallery.]
We ventured to our friend Meridith’s house, hoping and praying she wasn’t in her home. It wasn’t there. Thankfully, we received word later that night that she was okay, but she was in her house hiding under her mattress in the bathtub. There were several first responders telling us to go home because there were more tornadoes coming so we ran back to Midtown, still in shock. We sat in the dark, trying to take it all in. Not wanting to be alone, we went back to the front of our building to sit with everyone else that was in shock. The sun started going down, so we went to our cars and listened to the radio while trying to charge our phones. We tried to get in contact with our friends and families, but the cell service was out.
Kelly and I went back to our unit and got back into the bathroom since there was word of more on the way. My laptop still had some life left, so we watched a few episodes of How I Met Your Mother to take our mind off everything. After a while, we were both really tired so we tried to get some sleep. I cried the whole night.
At 7:00 am on Thursday, we got up and made our way toward campus. We had to take Hargrove Road to go around, which used to be a pretty street filled with tons of trees and old houses. Now it was covered with sawdust, dirt, and unrecognizable buildings. We went to Kelly’s work building to grab bottled water since we got news the tap water was contaminated. Publix was open due to backup generators, so we picked up some meal bars to take with us. We picked up Kelly’s friend, James, and were going to meet up with some friends to go help Meridith rummage through her things.
With the sun shining on Tuscaloosa as we walked down 15th Street towards Meridith’s, I was instantly assured that our people and our city would get through this. I have never seen people so resilient and determined. Students, residents, and responders were out in full force doing everything they could to sort through rubble. While many of Meridith’s belongings didn’t make it, we were able to salvage a decent amount of stuff. We even found a tupperware full of cookies she made right before the storm hit. They were delicious.
I ended up going to Birmingham Thursday afternoon to continue with Birmingham Fashion Week because I did not want to let this disaster take away everything in our lives. Two of my sorority sisters went as well, and while we were all devastated, it was nice to get our heads a little clear after what happened. We ended up raising $5,000 at the show for the relief effort as well as clothes, food, and water to bring back.
I went back to Tuscaloosa at 6:00 am Saturday morning and although the roads had been mostly cleared, it took some effort to get into my complex. The National Guard was out in full force with guns, ready to take out looters and protect our people. No matter how many times we walked up and down 15th Street and witnessed the utter devastation of our city, it’s still so unreal.
The past week has been filled with sleepless nights and little to eat or drink. I’ve been dealing with some kind of post-traumatic stress disorder. I didn’t realize how lucky I truly was until I saw the video of the 3/4 mile wide tornado on my building. You can see Longhorn’s sign, and my apartment is directly behind that. That thing could have demolished our whole building, but due to its height, the tornado shifted direction.
This has been declared a Category 1 disaster, the same ranking as Hurricane Katrina and September 11. The difference with us and Katrina is that there isn’t water everywhere and we didn’t have days to evacuate. No one realized how bad this would be. There’s nothing we could do to prevent this from happening. But what we can do is help the effort and rebuild. It’s not just my small college town of Tuscaloosa, but other areas of Alabama as well. While I am so fortunate to be safe and back in Atlanta with power, food, water, and clothes, the people of Tuscaloosa are not so lucky. With over 200 people still missing and 1,000 injured, the list of 40 fatalities is likely to increase. To walk around what and see what looks like a war zone with the National Guard stationed everywhere, is truly horrific. I know the CollegeCandy community is filled with generous women wanting to help, and I would be so appreciative of anything you all can do to help rebuild my town.
For CollegeCandy readers, the easiest thing you all can do is donate to the relief effort. Here are a few links for you to do that:
- Text 90999 to REDCROSS to make a $10 donation
- Donate to RedCross directly.
-Donate to UA’s Act of Kindness Fund.
-Donate to UA’s Greek Relief Fund.
If you’re in the area and can donate, here is what we need:
-Nonperishable food items
-Clothing: especially larger sizes for men and women
-Medical items: gauze, medical gloves, cotton balls, contact solution, Tylenol, etc
-Toys and children’s books
-Pet food and supplies