Wednesday started like any other day. Josh was on a business trip in Arizona this week, so I had the bed to myself. I got up and noticed that it was still so dark outside and the dog was pacing. I'm so glad I turned the television on to see what was going on with the weather. There were reports of a tornado in a neighboring community and we would find out later that severe straight line winds cut through another community leaving behind a war zone. I waited another hour before dropping off the girls and heading into to town. For those of you that live out of state, we have a major highway running from my community to a much larger city, 35 miles away. It is known for terrible traffic and it can take me anywhere from 40 to 90 minutes to commute each day, depending on lots of different factors. This particular morning, I traveled 19 miles in three hours before giving up and coming back home. Early morning winds had knocked out power almost the entire length of the highway and huge trees crossed portions of my commute. I opted to pick the girls up and take a personal day rather than spend two more hours trying to get to work. About ten minutes after I turned around, we got the call that schools were dismissing at noon and it was clear I made the right decision. I covered the return route in just 25 minutes.
I think we all knew the weather would be terrible, but there is no way to prepare yourself for this level of destruction. Not physically and certainly not mentally. The girls and I picked up lunch and came home for an early nap. I knew they would never sleep if we had severe thunderstorms, so I was trying to get them in before the bad weather moved into our area. I feel asleep on the couch. I would wake up to a disaster. Sophie woke me up and I sat down to check my email. Facebook was covered with messages about watching a local tornado move through town live on television. This is when I started to worry.
We have a cellar beneath the rock house. It isn't pretty or organized or water tight, but it's there. We have a concrete stairwell that used to lead into the house and it is flanked by three concrete walls. I went downstairs to make sure there wasn't any water in the cellar (we have a sump pump to take care of that) and I cleared a path to the stairs. We found flashlights and packed the girls a bag of drinks and snacks. I got blankets to sit on and make sure the light bulbs were working down there just in case we didn't lose power. Then I sat back down and looked at the destruction on the news. I sent SD a text message - I was worried about being here alone. My parents called and invited us for dinner and we decided it was better to ride the storm out with our family, even if they didn't have a basement. I just couldn't imagine being here cut off from everyone I know and love. We showered and packed an overnight bag and headed the four miles away to my parents' house.
Then this happened.
This is Tuscaloosa, Alabama. It was destroyed. Even though we were watching it happen on television, I don't think we could have possibly been prepared for the level of destruction we would later see. I have three younger cousins at local Tuscaloosa universities and we began to panic for their safety. Cell phone services were down in that area and their families hadn't yet heard from them. We would later hear that they were all safe, but their apartments were perilously close to the damage.
We ended up packing up once again and driving another mile down the road to my aunt Heather's new house. They have a huge basement with plenty of room and a storm shelter in case it got really bad. There were about twenty other members of extended family and friends waiting. It is so hard to know we were having a "party" while so many neighboring communities were suffering already.
|watching Disney's Tangled with the little girls|
|a dangerously competitive ping pong game|
|gran, molly & ella waiting in the storm shelter|
|ella & molly learned to play foosball|
|everyone got a turn trying to get this little one asleep|
We finally started getting reports from the younger cousins that they were okay, but that Tuscaloosa was destroyed. We were getting calls from friends and family checking on us. Josh was still in meetings because of the time-difference, but he was texting and calling every few minutes to check on us. Our favorite meteorologist reported that a tornado was moving in our direction. Impact in 10-15 minutes. They mentioned my neighborhood and I was suddenly so thankful to be in this basement with my family, but so homesick for the rock house and my husband. We saw the "storm" pass over. It was big and black and round. It was churning and full of green lightning. I don't know why I didn't take a picture. I don't know how I didn't realize that was a tornado at the time.
It was hard to see this photograph the next morning and wrap your mind around how we were spared. This was taken about 10 miles from my house. This is the storm that was reportedly headed right for us.
Then there was this. A diagram showing the tornadoes (measuring EF3 or more) that tore through our market on Wednesday. See that "non-verified" path in the very middle of the state? The one that skips an entire county? Well, we live in Shelby County and it almost skipped us completely.
Josh took this picture on the plane ride home yesterday afternoon. He flew right over Tuscaloosa and could follow the tornado track all the way to the Birmingham airport. It looks like a scar across Alabama. I added the arrows so you can see it, but I can't look at the photo without it screaming at me now.
We laid in bed and talked about it for a long time last night. I can't even look at the computer or television screen without crying. The photos and videos are heartbreaking; the number of homes destroyed and people lost is staggering. It could have been us. Y'all it looks like a war zone. Like a hurricane or an earthquake or a tsunami. Everyone on TV keeps saying that "they've never seen anything worse." In these communities there is nothing left. No homes, no power, no grocery stores. Schools are gone, classes are over, graduation has been canceled. They have no food, no water, no diapers or baby food. The only clothes they own are those they were wearing. It's so hard to know how to help, but churches everywhere are accepting donations and people are mobilizing. I've never been so proud to live in Alabama. I don't know how we recover from something like this, but it seems we are rallying together to get started today. If you haven't already, I encourage you to visit the Neighbors in Need and make a tax deductible donation today. They raised more than $600,000 last night during a two hour telethon. Want to shop instead? Gussy is donating 15% off all weekend sales to the Red Cross. It's going to take much more than that.
Please pray for our state and the thousands of people whose lives have been changed forever. Pray for us whose houses are still standing and have babies eating breakfast, but whose hearts are heavy for our friends and neighbors. Alabama has a huge whole in her heart today.