I haven’t taken this year for granted one bit after surviving the April 27, 2011 tornado. My senior year could have easily not happened had the storm taken campus or had my building fallen or had I been driving down 15th Street at the time if my teacher didn’t cancel our conference. While most of the country has forgotten about our devastation in Tuscaloosa, we haven’t. We see it every single day as we drive by the emptiness of where our normal lives were. We see it in the debris that still sits where the tornado dropped it. We see it when clouds roll in and when there’s a slight drizzle. We see it in houndstooth ribbons.
A year later, I get anxious and scared with the idea of a storm. April 27, 2012 was hard for us. While my sisters and I were recovering post senior bar crawl, we were still reflecting on what happened a year ago that day. Friday was a beautiful day, but the feeling of it was rough. However, our community is stronger than it has ever been. Last weekend, we had UA Day of Service where we went to different areas of devastation to clean up debris. You’d be surprised how much was still left over. My group was placed right where I had walked a year ago to find my friend Meridith’s house. Right where my roommate Kelly and I had climbed over fallen trees and power lines along with our fellow students. While I drive by that area all the time, standing there was a completely different feeling.
When we were told to leave campus last year, we didn’t want to. We all wanted to stay and put our town back together. Many of us came back over the summer to help and if we couldn’t make it back, we gathered donations at home. We knew it wouldn’t ever be the same. Destruction was our new normal. When we returned for the fall semester, a lot of us expected things to look better but it just looked empty. It looked clean, but empty. But when we got back into the swing of things, life came back to Tuscaloosa. When we started classes, life came back. When football season started, life came back. When we started having fun again, life came back. When we won the BCS National Championship, life came back.
The McDonald’s that was on the corner of 15th Street and 5th Avenue where Kelly and I stood trying to take in the aftermath reopened this week. Things are being rebuilt, slowly but surely. Hobby Lobby reopened in Northport, just across the bridge. Hokkaido just started construction. Krispy Kreme broke ground. The city is working on plans for a new and improved Tuscaloosa. While I know we would give anything to have it all back, I know Tuscaloosa will always be stronger. Sure, we’re afraid to hear sirens. We take a lot more precautions now even if it’s just a thunderstorm warning. We’ve had several tornado warnings since, which were filled with sleepless nights watching James Spann and huddling together in basements. That will take time to change, if at all.
Although we still have a long way to go, I’m so beyond proud to be a part of a community that has come so far in such a short amount of time. I’m graduating on Friday, and it’s hard knowing that I’m leaving this place, this community. This town means so much more to me having almost lost it. But I know when every time I come back to visit, something will be rebuilt. Things will look different, and it gets better every day.
[Gallery images via Tuscaloosa News]
Caitlin is a senior at the University of Alabama who has an obsession with cupcakes, coffee, and Harry Potter. She always has random fun facts on reserve and aspires to be a professional blogger, social media bug, and/or James Franco’s assistant. Follow her fabulous life @caitlincorsetti. You’re welcome!