Monday, August 1, 2011

I Will Praise You in this Storm

I saw this video a few days ago on Facebook, and it inspired me to share my miracle.

I was not injured, did not lose my home, was not trapped in rubble, and did not lose anyone I know, so you may not think my story is as miraculous as some.  But, I know (just like everyone else who survived this storm) that it is by the grace of God that I am still here without a scratch on me.  If that's not a miracle…then I don't know what is.

Let me go ahead and warn you, this is going to be REALLY long!  It won't hurt my feelings if you don't read all of it.  At the bottom of the page is a slideshow of mine and my friend Cam's pictures (which I borrowed from Facebook) from the tornado.  So, you might just want to scroll on down to that :)

Since April 27 is the worst day of my short life, I will just start at the very beginning.  So get comfy, like I said it's a long story.  Here we go!

I knew from the moment I woke up on April 27 that it was going to be a bad day.  But, I guess you always assume that when you are woken up at 5:00 am by a thunderstorm.  I knew that there was a good chance of tornados (because that's all anyone could talk about the day before), so I got up and turned on the TV to see what James Spann was saying.  I saw that we were only under a watch, so I tried to go back to sleep.  Of course that was pointless since the thunder and lighting keep me awake.  I had class at 7:30 that morning (why the University scheduled a math for finance class at 7:30 am is beyond me) so I just got up and kept watching the weather.  Around 6:30 I started debating whether or not I should go to class.  Most of the bad weather had passed Tuscaloosa, but it was supposed to get bad later that afternoon.  All of the Tuscaloosa city and county schools were closed, but of course, the good ole' U of A was still open.  I probably wouldn't have gone if it hadn't been the last class before finals and my last day of college classes ever.  So, being the good student I am, I went on to class.

I got to class at 7:30 and my professor brought us doughnuts (which is really weird because he had never done that before)!  I won't tell you about class, because I know you don't care haha…moving on.  I got out of class at 8:45 and walked across the quad to my job in the Rose Administration building.  I normally shared an office with three other ladies and another student assistant.  When I got there, no one else was in my office (which is also really weird because at least one of them is always there).  My boss came to check on me and told me that I could leave if I wanted.  I told her that I might as well just stay on campus since I had another class at 3:00.  

I stayed at work until about 2:50 and then headed back to class.  I had a really bad feeling as soon as I walked outside.  The sky was really dark, and it was so humid that you could almost catch the water in the air.  Like the weatherman said, it was perfect conditions for a storm.  My class was on the 2nd floor of Gordon Palmer, so we could watch the sky getting darker and darker out the window.  We knew that it was only a matter of time before the sirens went off.  At 3:45 we finally heard them.  During a tornado warning the professor is supposed to take his class to the bottom floor of the building and hold everyone there until the warning is over.  Apparently mine didn't get the memo.  We all went downstairs and then left when our professor disappeared.  I got in my car and was heading to my apartment when my mom called me (I forgot to mention that she had been harassing me about the weather all day).  She told me not to go home (because I lived in a 2nd floor apartment by myself) and asked if there was somewhere else I could go.  I told her that I would just go to my friend Chris's house in Forest Lake.  

When I got there, Chris and our other friend, Cam, were outside throwing the football.  None of us were too worried about the weather at that point.  We sat outside for a while and then went to McDonald's to get Chris some food.  It started raining around 4:30, so we went inside to see what was going on with the weather.  About 15 minutes later the sirens went off again.  After a few more minute it stopped raining, so the boys went back outside.  I stayed inside, because I was starting to get worried.  We had been watching the weather on Chris's big plasma TV in the living room, but the power flickered and turned it off.  So, we had to watch on the little TV in Chris's room.  

At about 5:00 I looked outside and saw that Cam and Chris were talking to the Alabama baseball players that lived across the street.  I walked back to the bedroom and saw that a tornado had just touched down at Shelton State (at this point I didn't know what direction it was headed in and I knew that Shelton was a pretty good ways from where we were, so I thought we had more time).  I ran to the door and yelled at the boys to come inside and told Scotty, Chris's other roommate, (who had been in his room the whole time) to get in the hall.  They ran in and saw the tornado on TV and started looking out the window to see if they could see it.  As soon as they looked outside they could see debris flying.  Chris yelled at us to get in the bathroom (which I was already in) and threw bean bag chairs over us.  We had probably been in there for a whole 30 seconds before the entire house started shaking.  I could feel air and glass hitting my back from under the door.  Chris told me later that it took everything he had to hold the door closed, because the tornado was actually trying to push it in.  I was on the end, so I latched onto Cam for dear life and honestly thought we were all going to die.  I've always said that I won't go down without a fight, but there's no way to fight a tornado.  All you can do is hold on and pray.  The question most people ask me is what did it sound like.  Honestly, I couldn't hear much over my screaming and Cam repeatedly telling me that we were going to be okay.  

After what felt like a lifetime (it was probably 15 or 30 seconds in reality), the house stopped shaking and it got really quite.  Then, we heard someone pounding on our door.  Chris jumped up to open it and the baseball players from across the street ran in.  They were in a panic and just kept saying our house is gone, our house is gone.  All the guys ran outside to see if anyone needed help, but I couldn't move.  I was terrified and didn't want to leave my safe area.  I finally convinced myself to get up and walked outside.  I immediately doubled over because the entire neighborhood was completely destroyed.  I saw Chris down the street and he ran to me (he told me later that he does not remember this at all).  He hugged me for a while and told me that we were ok and that everything was going to be ok.  Then, I heard Cam yelling at me to call 911.  I tried to call, but I couldn't get any calls to go out.  I also started trying to call my mom.  I guess I figured if I couldn't get 911, then my mom was the next best thing haha.    After several attempts, I was finally able to talk to my mom.  I don't remember much of this phone conversation but she told me that I just kept telling her that all of Tuscaloosa was gone (from what I could see, it was).  

It was amazing to me in the few moments right after the storm, that everyone was genuinely concerned for their neighbors.  Everyone we saw asked if we were all ok, and we asked the same.  I am also so proud of Chris, Cam and Scotty for running to help the people that were trapped around us.  They told me that they saw some things that they wish they wouldn't have, but they had to help people.  

I won't go into too much detail about what happened next.  It was just pretty much people telling us more tornadoes were coming and us trying to look for shelter.  Once we were told that the bad weather was over, we decided that we would walk to my apartment and stay there if it was still standing.  Chris packed up as much stuff as he could carry, and we started walking down 15th Street.  As we were walking we were trying to figure out if that pile of rubble was Smoothie King or Honey Baked Ham (it was so sad that you couldn't tell the difference).  These three guys saw us and asked if we needed a ride somewhere.  I don't know who these guys were, but they were lifesavers.  They took us to our friend Hannah's apartment (we knew she had a car and could take us to my apartment if it wasn't damaged).  Once we got to Hannah's she took us to my apartment, and thank goodness it was fine.  Of course there was no power, but we had a roof to sleep under.

My boyfriend, Ty, and Chris's brother, Trey, came to get us that night and took us home the next day.  I spent the next two days glued to the TV.  I watched every minute of coverage knowing that pictures of the damage didn't do it justice.  After surviving a tornado, I have a new found respect for weather.  I'm pretty sure that I will get chills every time I hear a tornado siren.  

The what ifs from that day are what haunt me the most.  The fact that one house is still standing while the one next door doesn't exist anymore is amazing.  Some people survived while others across the street didn't.  These are the questions that scare me:  What if I hadn't been at Chris's?  What if I hadn't told the boys to come inside?  What if Chris's house had been across the street?  What if I hadn't seen the tornado on TV?  But, it's a waste of time to worry about the what ifs.  I know that the only reason I'm alive is because that was God's will.  He protected the four of us in that little bathroom, and I believe he has big plans for all of us.  About a week after the tornado, the New York Times posted an ariel view of Tuscaloosa on their website.  You can clearly see the 6 mile path of destruction the tornado left.  It was an interactive map that you could zoom in on.  I zoomed in and could actually see Chris's house and our cars.  I was in complete awe when I saw that the tornado had actually looped right around us.  I will never know why God sent that tornado, but I do know that it isn't a coincidence that I'm alive today.

I will be going back to Tuscaloosa this weekend for graduation, and sadly I dread it.  The city has removed most of the rubble on 15th street now, so it looks completely different.  I knew that area like the back of my hand.  Now, if you dropped me in the middle of Forest Lake or 15th Street, I wouldn't even know what city I was in.  I know it will all be rebuilt, and it will probably look a lot nicer than it did before.  It's just sad to know that Tuscaloosa will never look like the place I called home for 4 years.

Thanks for taking the time to read all that.  It was good for me to get it off my chest.  But, I think I should end this post on a lighter note.  Football season starts in 33 days and Bryant Denny is still standing tall :)    
Roll Tide!
They say a picture is worth a thousand words.  So, if you want to see what I saw that day, then watch this slideshow.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing your story :) Congrats on graduation!