April 27th 2011 did not start out like any typical day. I think that many Alabamians knew what was coming thanks to James Spann, ABC 33/40's chief meteorologist, who had been warning everyone in the viewing area for a week. But I dont think ANYONE was prepared for what actually happened. I know I wasnt. Having lived in Alabama almost my entire life, I have always been lucky to be just out of harms way when the weather got bad here. I had never seen real tornado damage or destruction close to home.
I woke up that morning, around 5:45 am. I dont remember if I heard sirens outside, which had become more of a nuscense than a warning. Calhoun County set those things off for thunderstorms as well as tornadoes, so we learned to just "eh" at the sirens. Anyway, around six am I walk outside on the porch of my mobile home(aka death trap in a tornado) in Ohatchee (right off of mudd street) and everything looks calm and serene. Just a little cloudy and over cast, nothing threatening. The next thing I know Im inside talking about the weather to my husband and I look at that tiny trailer window and all I see is hail, trees kissing the ground and rain. I panicked. I ran to my daughters room and snatched her up out of her bed, wrapped a towel around her and bellowed at my husband that I suggest he follow us OUT of the mobile home and to my mothers house across the yard. I was so scared, especially going outside. I really didnt want to be hit by a tree or a tree branch or anything else that may have been flying through the air.
So we make it to my mothers house about the time the power goes out. And we just sit. Waiting for it to let up. Now granted, we lived in a mobile home...and every time it rains its SOOO much louder than in a home with a regular roof, so my reaction may have been too much for the little bit of action we actually got, but I was freaked out, and i was not staying in that trailer.
We had NO damage on our entire street, but just down the road a man lost the roof to his house (a tin roof, and I shit you not...he had that sucker reattached to his home a few hours later).
Ill say, that I was honestly ok (a little shaken up) but ok after the first morning strong winds that came through. It wasnt until my husband and I drove just a few miles down to Boiling Springs road and saw how badly they got hit did i start realizing how lucky we were.
Driving down to the end of Mudd street there were so many HUGE trees that were blown over.
This was at the intersection of Mudd Street and Boiling Springs Road
But the real "WTF" moment came just down BSR :
I still have no idea what happened to that tractor trailer, but Im just assuming that a tree landed on it. I took this picture.
The next thing that I saw that freaked me out was the Oak Bowery Churches chapel had been completely blown off the church and was laying in the parking lot.
Driving up HWY 431 (en route to JSU) we were turned around due to the storm damage on the highway, and on HWY 204.
So that was round one. When my husband and I got to the College (since we had no water or power) I started getting news about some serious tornadoes that were hitting in Culman. My sister sent me a link to the one that did the most damage there that morning...and I remember telling her that she had better find some where to go. She lived in a third floor apartment, so I was really worried.
I stayed on top of everything that day as far as the weather was concerned.
And then the real storms started rolling in.
If you didnt know any better, you would think that after the first round of storms that you were in the clear. There were blue skys, warm air, everything seemed great. But that warm air was the catalyst that those storms needed to become as powerful as they were. I refused to stay in the same spot we were before, and had gotten lucky. I wasnt in the mood to test fate.
So my husband, my seven month pregnant ass, and my daughter (2 at the time) piled up at JSU, where thank God we had power and tv and Internet access.
I remember texting my sister (who lives in Tuscaloosa) telling her about what James Spann was saying about the storm approaching T Town. I was so relieved when she told me her and her husband were bunkered down WAY underground. Whew.
Then I saw this on the news:
Now I had no idea just how big and bad this tornado was. I had nothing to compare it to. I just know that my sister had no idea what was going on and I was doing my best to give to minute to minute details about where exactly the storm was at so that she could brace herself for the impact (if any)
And then there was nothing. I couldnt get a text back or a phone call through to my sister. I was really starting worry, then James Spann comes across the TV and says that the Mayor of Tuscaloosa had confirmed one fatality.Sadly, more and more people would be confirmed dead as the day progressed. That seemed like a huge number to me since I had no idea what I was really looking at watching that tornado plow over the city.
I finally talked to my sister and found out that she was safe, but Tuscaloosa looked like a war zone. It literally looked like a bomb had been dropped. Im not even going to describe the things that I was told because its really just too sad and honestly, graphic.
Then, our sirens started going off in Jacksonville AL. We went down to the basement and waited until we thought it was clear to go, and we packed up our stuff and went home.
I later found out that Ohatchee had been hit really hard that afternoon/night. It was so hard to keep up with everything that was happened because it seemed like you just got over being shocked about one tornado, and three more popped up in different places. Birmingham was hit really bad, well the outskirts of Birmingham. It rained debris from all the tornadoes for a couple days. Letters and pieces of homes were scattered across the state. Yes, the STATE.
I had no idea how bad it was in Ohatchee (Henry Neely lake/dam area) until the next day. People lost their lives, homes, it was just a mess.
This was crossing the lake. Twisted metal every where. Snapped power poles.
Probably the siding and duct work to some one's home.
This was a neighborhood, with homes. Leveled.
This was a home. There was another house behind it that was rolled down the hill.
I tip my hat to the hardworking men and women who worked around the clock to restore power to everyone.
After seeing all that in Ohatchee, and hearing about Shoal Creek and Ragland, and Ashville, I had to do something. I ran through my house grabbing up everything that I could find that i could donate. Diapers, wipes, pull ups, clothes, baby clothes, kid shoes, kotex for women, we went to the dollar general and bought cases of water. We grabbed blankets (it was cold at night) canned goods, anything that we could think of to give to people who had lost everything. I dropped some off at the Ten Island Church in Ohatchee, and I took some down to shoal creek. I felt so good about giving, and I only wish that I could have done more. I felt like we had been so lucky, that we were obligated to help those who took the storm head first.
Its been a year ago today, and no one is the same after. I know im not. And neither is the way we look at weather. The june following the storms, Calhoun County changed their policy to sounding the tornado sirens ONLY when there is a tornado. NOT thunderstorms. We found out that helmets being warn while in your "safe place" can very well save your life.
We learned to not rely on outdoor sirens. They are for out doors!!! We all bought weather radios and have down loaded weather apps on our smart phones! We also learned that we have the best weather man that this state could ask for, as well as his weather team. Without their dedication, even more lives would have been lost.
James Spann has become a public figure to whom many people in Alabama feel like he saved their lives that day, and he did. We can all quote James Spann. "Lowest level, most interior room in the house" "Respect the polygon" are just a couple.
And lets not forget the Diane Sawyer fiasco. I think she found out what happens when you mess with the Spann. A lot of Alabamians get pissed. I think we all had pictures like this on our facebook at some point
So that is my story for April 27th 2011. Im so proud of our state and how far we have come since then, and I pray that in the future we will fare safe in the path of dangerous storms.