We were tired and jet-lagged, and thrilled to be on the GROUND after almost 20 hours straight of turbulence. I just wanted to check in with my family and let them know we had landed.... and maybe "vent" a little to my mom about the horrible flight we'd just endured. But I wasn't ready for the news she had for me.
"A tornado hit Alabama," she said, "and it's bad. Actually, it wasn't just one tornado - they don't know how many there were. They just kept dropping out of the sky.... It was HORRIBLE! We're all fine, but the damage is bad. It hit Piedmont, and Cullman, and several other areas, and..... TUSCALOOSA IS GONE."
Now, say what you want to about the Auburn/Alabama rivalry and how much we hate each other if you will.... I have certainly made my share of nasty comments about the U of A and how much I detest even traveling through the city of Tuscaloosa. But when my mother made that statement, all I thought about were my friends there - my old roommate Caroline, my mission partner Jenny, my brother's girlfriend Michelle, our friends and supporters The Millers, and all my friends from my Miss Alabama Pageant days. I felt like my heart was in my throat.
"What do you mean GONE?!" I asked. "It's just gone baby," Mom said, "You wouldn't believe the damage. There are 158 people dead and hundreds more missing. You just need to pray."
I was in shock hearing the news that my state, my Sweet Home Alabama, had been destroyed... but I didn't really understand the devastation until I saw the pictures. We managed to find a wireless internet connection from our neighbor's house that night (ours had been disconnected while we were gone) and I gasped as I saw the proof. I just couldn't believe the scenes I was seeing could possible be ALABAMA! They looked like something out of a disaster movie!
See the aerial video footage of Tuscaloosa HERE.
See the before and after pictures from satellite images HERE.
I sat for over an hour that night watching videos, looking at pictures, and crying. I had been awake for over 48 hours, but I just couldn't pull myself away. I was stunned, I was heartbroken, and I was ANGRY! As I began to process what had happened, I realized just how upset I was. I had been out of the country for 3 and 1/2 months, and I had been surrounded by injustice, pain, and tragedy. We'd grown accustomed to seeing the darkness of the sex industry every day.... to holding orphans in desperate need of a family.... to hearing testimonies of children in Burma running for their lives and the stories of those who couldn't escape the genocide. It was difficult to be around, but it was in Thailand and Burma. These places were not my home.... my home was a peaceful place. The place I would return to was a beautiful, and safe, and loving state down South... my sweet home Alabama.
But when I got back to America, there was nothing peaceful about Alabama. It had been ravaged by destruction, death, and tragedy. I was hearing reports of over 300 people dead, over 1,000 injured, and over 400 missing. There were hundreds, if not thousands of people who lost EVERYTHING! There were wives who lost their husbands, and parents who lost their children. There was one 2 year old child found dead who had been carried 5 miles from home by the tornado. A father of 13 lost his life when he threw himself on his children to protect them from their home that was collapsing around them. And these were not people in some far away land. These were my fellow Alabamians.
To say this "hit home" for me is the best way I can express it. Even far away in Michigan, this was personal to me.
It's been hard to be so far away from Alabama while the recovery efforts are happening, because I want to be there so badly. There are days I feel like I am still in a foreign country, because no one here in Michigan is really even AWARE of what has happened. People here were unaffected by the tornadoes down South, and no one is really talking about it (nor do they understand how bad the damage is). That's a big reason why I'm writing this blog.... to not only process what I felt about the storms, but to raise awareness for the people of Alabama (and those in surrounding states with damage).
I don't know why the media is not giving this the coverage it deserves, but if you are reading this from another state (or country) PLEASE consider helping those who have been affected! The federal government has declared this a CATEGORY 1 natural disaster in Alabama, the highest rating possible (the same given to the damage caused by Katrina). This was not just another tornado. There are areas that have been completely DEVASTATED! The needs are so great, and this is not something that will be a quick fix. It will likely take years for the recovery and rebuilding efforts to be finished.
PLEASE PRAY for the people of Alabama, and Mississippi, and Arkansas (and any other areas affected by these horrific storms) and PLEASE CONSIDER GETTING INVOLVED in the relief and recovery efforts.
- For information about how you can help, CLICK HERE.
- To sign up to take a mission trip to Alabama (and help with relief efforts), CLICK HERE. (note - these will be starting May 13th and happening all summer)
- To buy a t-shirt (that will raise awareness for Alabama and raise money for the Red Cross), CLICK HERE.
- To "like" the "Toomer's for Tuscaloosa" group on facebook (an AU-some group of Auburn fans/students/alumni who are working around the clock to help with the relief efforts) and get real-time updates for needed donations & volunteer opportunities, CLICK HERE.
- To read an incredible story from a survivor (that will hopefully help you understand how terrifying this experience was for so many) CLICK HERE.