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Surviving The Tornadoes of April 27th 2011

The first tornadoes struck early Wednesday morning, April 27, 2011, followed by another round Wednesday evening. It was 2 days of tension as we were looking for bad weather on Tuesday, but it waited until Wednesday morning for those of us in the Birmingham AL area.

The tornado sirens sounded about 5:20am for us, jarring us out of bed in the early morning darkness. After a quick look at the local TV station we realized we had about 45 minutes before it was on us. Took a quick shower, dressed, and carried down my emergency items to the powder room on the ground floor. We do not have a basement, although we considered digging one quickly later in the day.

I have posted many times about being prepared for storms, spring storms like tornadoes, summer storms like hurricanes and winter storms that bring ice and banks of snow higher than I can imagine. Snow is why I live in the South. Tornadoes are why I wish there was a safer place in the South to live!

Being prepared for the storms that come our way is usually not too hard. Just make certain you have a wind-up radio, wind-radio, food for several days for myself and the kitties, water, even some hot water stored in a thermos, medicines, first aid kit, clothes, candles, matches in a dry place like a Tupperware container and a few blankets with pillows for me and the kitties. Well, you know the kittes are going to take possession of the blankets and pillows.

But these storms on April 27th were different from past storms. These storms packed winds of up to 200mph. Now I had lived through hurricane Charlie (and the 3 following hurricanes) when it hit the Walt Disney World area in 2004. I saw the trees down, the houses destroyed, the roofs removed or damaged as was mine, the power off, the houses flooded because the roof lifted and the contents of the house were exposed to the relentless rain of the hurricane, pounding at strange angles.

At that time I was in my little house when the slanted A-frame roof groaned and creaked like a ship in the storm. I witnessed the metal garage door panels separating in the continued onslaught of 100mph winds. The cat door between the garage and the house stayed open for ½ an hour or more, gently bobbing up and down but never really closing. I prayed in the powder room on the ground floor, holding my kitties and keeping an eye of the battery powered TV/radio I had with the 9 inch screen. Could not see much on that tiny black & white picture, but I knew it was not good. Finally the winds died down and the main part of the storm passed on to other parts of FL.

Power was out, for about 24 hours total. I lived near 2 hospitals and that was providential for getting power back on. But I also lived in a community where our oak trees were trimmed each year to remove excess weight. We did not lose a tree in the 4 storms. We also lived in houses that were 20+ years old with wooden siding. Some lost a few boards, we all lost some shingles on our roofs, but all was well. However, the newer houses in the adjacent neighborhoods with the vinyl siding were naked when the sun came up.

100mph winds can do amazing damage. But 200mph winds do unbelievable damage. Even looking at the pictures just does not give you a true perspective on the damage or the horror that the people of Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and Georgia lived through last Wednesday.

For us, the storms went all around us. Not a good feeling when a local weather man calls out the name of the highway you live off of as the path of a tornado! We had one storm pass just over the mountain from our home. The trees at the top of the mountain swayed and the wind sounded like those ominous “trains” that everyone refers to when talking about tornados. Debris was flying about here, but it was mainly leaves for us. The 7 or 8 storms that were on the weather map in our area at one time missed us, thankfully. Prayers were answered. But we have family who were not so lucky.

I can only image the terror they felt when their homes, their place of security and comfort blew apart around them. The home that they rejoiced in, the home where they fed family and friends, the home where they mourned for friends and family, the home where they saw their children grow up, all blown to bits in a matter of seconds.

Now these folks are looking at a pile of rubble. Some were at work when the storm hit. They have been back to their homes, their neighborhoods and could not even find their lot. Nothing looked recognizable to them. All the normal landmarks are gone.

Can you imagine that? Can you imagine coming home to find the trees, gardens, swing sets, storage sheds, garages, street signs and such are not all gone? It is like being dropped in a war zone. The landscape is alien, trees stripped of limbs, leaves, while what is left is twisted, contorted into bizarre shapes. Neighbors are bruised, battered or worse yet, dead.

Vehicles are flipped over, crushed by trees or parts of houses. Power poles are down, wires are all over the place, some still live and others not. Dangerous. The boards that litter the yard are filled with nails, screws and splinters. There is no safe place to be, no clean place to sit and have a meal, no bathroom to shower, no toilet to use, no faucet to give water. Cell towers are down so no communications can get through. Nothing is normal.

Whole towns are gone. Homes, businesses, churches, schools, theaters, professional buildings for Doctors, accountants, restaurants, fast food joints, donut shops, bait shops, lawyers, fire stations, police departments. All damaged or gone. Wiped off the face to this earth. A concrete slab with pipe stubs marks buildings with no reference as to what they used to be.

Not only are homes gone. But jobs are gone. Medical care is displaced or gone. Resources that normally help in times of small crisis are having a big crisis themselves.

Now the arduous task of putting their lives back together has begun. They have to bury their dead. Some have to locate family and friends still missing. Some will be rewarded with good news and will rejoice. Others will not be so blessed and tears of mourning will flow.

Every time they need something it is not there. All that is around them at “home” now is rubble. Paper, books, shingles, boards and such flew in the tornado and landed miles from their original homes. So you look in your yard and there are checks form a lady in a town 60 miles away who went to the Piggly Wiggly (grocery store) in 1992 and spent a few dollars on food! Bizarre.

I have experienced the numbing task for burying 3 of my immediate family members one fine May day several years ago, after they were killed in an auto accident by an 18 yr old who lost control speeding. I know how impossible that is to get through the sudden deaths of family and friends. But add on top of that immense sadness the loss of homes and everything else you used to own, and see how that feels. It is a level of pain of high magnitude.

So how can we move on from this assault on our bodies, souls, minds, property and emotions? What can we do to make a step forward when we feel like we weight a thousand pounds and cannot possibly take a step in any direction? All we want to do it get our lives back to the way it was before Wednesday. And of course that will never be.

We will never know the sound of that home again in the same way. We will never hear the laughter of our dead friends and family. The swing set will never squeak in its own peculiar way again. The bar-b-que grill is in pieces scattered over 3 counties and will never be the site of family get togethers. How can we possibly move forward?

It is not easy. These survivors will make the slow process of moving forward inch by inch, day by day. Since they are alive, their grief will come in unexpected places. They will absentmindedly reach for something only to realize that it is forever gone. They will reach for the phone to call someone only to be reminded that that person is dead. Sadness will grip them in unusual places at unusual times. But slowly, they will heal.

Their homes and lives will be rebuilt. They will form new communities with different people, different values and different goals. The survivors will move to new places, stay in the same area or leave the state entirely. Change has happened and the final place to start again will be part of the process.

Right now the immediate need is for shelter and comfort, food, clothing and a sense of safety. The survivors will find bits of their lives and pack them away in boxes for use later in their new homes. Their memories will be their touchstones for what has happened. The things of their lives will change, they will change and they will being again.

The slate is blank for them now. They can create their own future based on what their past was, or not. Moving forward can take them in different directions and only God knows what he has in store for them. New paths, new directions, new talents maybe. New passions, new skills forged from the newness of the raw earth. It is a time of renewal, it is a time of rediscovery and of forging new identities. Old habits can be laid aside easier since the stimulus is no longer there.

We are lucky in the Birmingham area to have many resources coming to help with aid and comfort. Churches, Red Cross, Salvation Army, private individuals, Television and Radio stations doing all day coverage linking people and needs together as well as fundraising. People looking for lost pets, people looking for the dead, people looking for the survivors who have not connected with loved ones.

The pet people are my favorites. I cannot imagine the terror of having my kittes separated from me in the storm. To know that there are folks out looking for, recovering, treating injuries, feeding and caring for the pets warms my heart. I re-post on facebook when I can so others can see the need and help match owners with found pets. What a wonderful reward after such a tragic event.

So the next time I post something about being prepared for a coming storm, listen and take heed. Gather your precious things around you whether they be people, pets or things and be ready for action when the house explodes around you. Have a plan. Know who to call. Know what is really important to you and let go of the rest. For in the end, your family, friends and pets are all that really matter. Stuff can be replaced, memories are in your heart, and smiles are on the faces of those you love. Stay well and stay safe!

2 Comments

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