5 Years Later: Remembering April 27, 2011
It seems like only yesterday that this terrible day happened. Yet, five years later, it has shaped the character of the city of Tuscaloosa, and we've proven through hard work and determination that even a disaster can't keep a proud community down.
I was still a student at the University of Alabama when the April 27 tornado ripped through Tuscaloosa. On Tuesday, April 26, I was working on a huge project for class that was due that Friday. Like most college kids, I procrastinated until the last moment because who needs sleep, right?
However, it was on that day that I heard meteorologist James Spann say on the news that things were shaping up for some severe weather the next day. These warnings are often overlooked in Alabama, especially in April, since the weather is so unpredictable. And like I had done so many times before when I heard the word "tornado," I didn't think twice about it.
Wednesday came and, for the most part of the day, the weather was nice, nothing "severe," nothing of concern. I continued my work on my final project, turning on the television in the background to break the monotony of browsing the internet, writing, and producing a PowerPoint presentation.
During the afternoon is when I got an alert on my phone, a warning for severe weather in the Tuscaloosa area. Again, weather being what it is in Alabama, I clicked "Dismiss" and continued my work.
I lived with my brother and one of his friends right on the outskirts of Northport five years ago. My brother was at work at Ol' Colony Golf Complex that day and our roommate was in his room doing his own classwork. Around 3:00, our roommate came downstairs and told me to turn the TV to the news, because he'd heard the weather was about to get bad. Yet again, I wasn't worried, but decided to change the channel just to be sure.
We watched Spann for the next hour or so, keeping an eye on the potential for bad weather. As time inched closer to 5:00, the weather broadcast became increasingly more urgent. The sky darkened, and we could feel the air begin to change, even inside our house.
On TV, the radar was showing that a strong storm was moving through eastern Tuscaloosa, and given the location of our house, I and my roommate gathered some blankets and pillows and prepared to enter the interior closet underneath our staircase. It wasn't moving directly toward our house, but with strong storms like that, their paths are oftentimes even more unpredictable than the weather in general.
After about 20 minutes, the storm had passed through Tuscaloosa County; we had just sat on the couch and watched the television, but could hear the tornado as it passed through Tuscaloosa a couple miles away.
We walked outside to see if there was any damage in our immediate vicinity, even though the worst that happened as far as we could tell was some moderately hard rainfall and a few wind gusts.
After checking outside, we went back inside to check in on some of our friends to make sure everything was fine. However, if you were in Tuscaloosa five years ago, you know that all cellular service was knocked out at the time. He tried to call his girlfriend (now wife), but to no luck, so we loaded up in his truck and went to check on her, as she lived just off of the campus of the University of Alabama.
By the time it took us to get to 15th St., the first responders had already closed off 15th St, and traffic was so congested that we weren't able to turn around and find another route. After some time, however, his girlfriend had posted on Facebook that she was okay, so after sitting in his truck for about two hours, we eventually were able to get back home, but not before we saw the destruction and devastation that had just taken place.
During the storm itself, we didn't know how bad it was until we saw the damage that was caused. Over the next few days, classes were cancelled at Alabama and I was able to go to many of my friends' houses who lived close to 15th St, Forrest Lake, and Alberta City and help them cut up blown-down trees, repair shingles and windows, and just help clean up after the terrible devastation that had just occurred.
I wasn't directly affected by the tornado on that day, but I saw the damage and saw how many lives it impacted. And five years later, I've seen how it's brought together a community and a state. It's a shame that sometimes it takes a tragedy to bring about this social cohesiveness, but we're all better for it now. When things aren't going along swimmingly, it's nice to know that within earshot, there's always plenty of people in the community willing to lend a helping hand.