TUSCALOOSA, Alabama -- Catastrophic. Devastation. Epic. These words just seem cliché after witnessing firsthand the aftermath of the April 27th, 2011 EF-4 tornado that hit Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Perhaps the best word to describe what happened here is annihilation. Besides the complete destruction of many homes and businesses along the tornado's 80.3 mile path, the emotional scars are far worse. For many Alabamans it will be life before the tornado and life after the tornado.
Driving into Tuscaloosa Sunday evening following the storm, the telltale signs of a violent tornado were evident, even in the shroud of night. Miles of trees one to two feet in diameter were snapped in half midway up the trunk, the bark stripped and the foliage torn away. Dozens of utility and telephone poles laid at rest alongside Interstate 20. Then it hits you. Brilliant blue lights cutting through the darkness of night by countless police cruisers and various other emergency vehicles. Military Humvees, transport vehicles and armed national guardsmen patrolling the wreckage that once was a bustling area of community and commerce. Did I just walk into a war zone? No. I walked into the carnage left behind by one of the most violent and deadliest tornadoes since the Great Depression.
Daylight confirmed what night hid--an assault on not only the infrastructure of Tuscaloosa, but its people. Lives changed forever, lives lost, but a spirit unwavering. The goodness and blessing of God was spoken on the tongues of nearly every resident I came across. Much like Oklahoma, this is a place of belief, of faith in a higher power. Clinging to the comfort of that, Alabamans face the daunting task of disaster cleanup and rebuilding – though the latter is far from most people's mind at this time. Hundreds still remain missing here in Tuscaloosa, a number which hasn't yet been confirmed.
One thing that is constantly in the back of my mind is this: it's like looking into Oklahoma's past, and desperately hoping it's not like looking into her future.