Bad weather is on the way. We don't take that stuff lightly here in Alabama, especially considering that today is the third anniversary of The Big One. A huge tornado that decimated our town. And since storm stories are my family's specialty, let's take a walk down memory lane.
April 27, 2011. I can't remember if Andy had dropped Lauren with my mom that morning or the day before. For some reason, her school was out the latter part of the week, and she was in Mississippi. We knew weather was predicted, but I wasn't too worried. We had had a distant tornado a week or so prior, and preschool had let out then, so I was really hoping people wouldn't overreact and call off school this time.
...But they did. Before noon, Tucker's school announced that they were closing due to the threat of weather. I picked him up and headed home. He remembers that we played Yahtzee. I remember watching a really big tornado approach Cullman (couple hours north of us) while James Spann narrated. I emailed my friend who was (I thought) still at work to let her know about that one. It got to be later in the day, and I was really thinking that everything was going to miss us. Andy had gone out to a funeral of a family friend. While he was out, things must have started happening, because at some point, I called him to tell him not to dilly-dally, he needed to get home SOON.
Andy got home, and we started assembling our "safe place" in the hall: pillows, blankets, a radio, and flashlights. I was trying to keep it light for Tucker. He was a very intuitive Four. By this point, we were flipping between James and the local station. All stations were showing an unthinkably humongous tornado bearing down on Tuscaloosa. It looked like it was headed directly for Bryant-Denny Stadium. At one point, panic filled Richard Scott's voice as he told not the listeners but his co-workers to get in a safe place. It appeared that he was moving off camera for safety and then...nothing. The power was out.
And we knew nothing. I got a text from my Aunt Rhonda, asking if we were okay. I was able to text or maybe talk to my mom briefly. I may have texted Bob, I'm not sure. The power didn't come on. We stupidly tried to order pizza. At that point, we couldn't get anyone on the phone, and my cell was draining. We ate whatever we had by candlelight. We heard from the radio things like "DCH was destroyed" and "the mall was gone" and we dismissed them immediately. We had no clue how bad it was. By the time Andy went to work that night, we knew he should avoid McFarland and 15th Street. There is no telling how long it took him to get there that night. Every route was blocked and he had to wind his way through wreckage and debris.
I slept on the couch. The next morning, I called my mom. She was starting to hear reports and maybe see pictures of the damage. I still had a non-smart phone, and wasn't able to see anything. I'm not sure if I heard from her or some other way that the city's water wasn't safe. That was the little push I needed to load up Tucker in the car and drive to Columbus. I was pregnant and had a four-year-old. There was nothing I could do to help. I felt useless.
We couldn't avoid seeing damage on the way out of town. Traffic was bad, and along the interstate, we saw buildings that were demolished and cars that had been flung where they shouldn't have been. When I got to mom's I spent the day in a zombie-state: unable to handle seeing the scenes on the computer; completely unable to look away.
We finally drove home on Saturday, and drove straight down McFarland Boulevard. It was completely unreal. Everything was gone. Anywhere you went, you could see DCH, because nothing was blocking the view. We felt like strangers in a strange land. For weeks and weeks, no one could talk of anything else.
The town rallied. Strangers showed compassion. People crawled out of the woodwork to help their neighbor. We persevered. Three years later, it seems like it just happened and it was forever ago, all at once.
Stronger, Safer, Smarter.