Thursday, October 6, 2011

RETURN TO TUSCALOOSA

I was in Tuscaloosa, Alabama a week before April 27, 2011.  When I left Tuscaloosa last spring, the city was busy and alive as students were preparing to graduate from the university located there.  It was a sunny and mild week and things were moving along at their usual southern pace going through the daily routines that people go through.

Then on April 27 a huge tornado ripped through the town.  It skimmed by the university and left a path of destruction that can only be imagined in the minds of those who were not there that day.  I remember watching the footage of what was left of the town on the news.  It had ripped a path of destruction that divided the city in two.  My nephew's father, Mr. Porter, lost almost everything he owned as his house was totally destroyed.

The people of Tuscaloosa as well as volunteers from all over the state of Alabama and the country raced to start the recovery of the town.  Another nephew of mine, Bo, joined the rescue and recovery teams as he took his heavy equipment to the ravaged area to help those who needed it.  Streets needed to be cleared.  Remains of houses and all other sort of debris had to be cleaned up.  There was no doubt that this would be a long process.

Last week on my way home from Georgia, I stopped in Tuscaloosa for a quick visit with my sister.  On the way home from eating at the local IHOP, she took me on a tour of the stricken area of Tuscaloosa. It had been six months since that day of destruction.  Even after six months though, you could still see the path that the tornado had taken through the town.  They were still working hard to rebuild the town but they have a long ways to go yet.

A lot of the businesses that were effected by the storm have moved to the out lying towns of Tuscaloosa leaving parts of the city like a ghost town.  There is an off campus housing shortage for the students at the university as the tornado ripped through the majority of that housing as it tore through next to the campus.

What was obvious to me as I was driven through the areas effected by the tornado was that the number of workers that were on the job still rebuilding the area was greatly diminished.  The shock of the storm had been forgotten in the minds of most people who were not effected by the storm.  The volunteers from around the state and the country had left having to get back to their own daily rituals of life.  Tuscaloosa was left on it's own now to finish the clean up and the rebuilding.

It is easy to forget about an event that happened six months ago when you don't live there on a daily basis and see the destruction that is still there.  People have found new housing as the old housing in the destroyed areas are cleared away.  Soon, I imagine, new houses will start popping up in Tuscaloosa and new businesses will open in the town as office space and new store fronts are created.  For now though, there is still a huge hole in the heart of Tuscaloosa.

That night as I thought about what I had seen in that beautiful little college town my thoughts went home to Missouri.  A few weeks after the tornado had hit Tuscaloosa, another tornado had ripped through Joplin in southern Missouri.  It had done damage much similar to the Tuscaloosa tornado.  It has been almost six months since that storm.  I have not been to Joplin since the storm.  I do not know how they are doing in their own rebuilding efforts but I imagine they are facing a lot of the same challenges that the people of Tuscaloosa are still facing.

I suppose it is the nature of the beast to help out as much as we can but there comes a time when the volunteers do have to get back to their own lives and leave these two towns on their own as they continue to rebuild their respective areas.  I did what I thought I could to help both cities by making a donation to a relief fund set up for each of the cities that were hit last spring.  I am not sure I am capable of doing anything more than that, except to keep the people of Tuscaloosa and Joplin in my thoughts and prayers as they continue this challenge that life has given them.

I guess what I am asking or trying to say is to take time to think once in awhile about our fellow man in these two cities.  These storms hit every year and every year it seems like another town is targeted.  Next year there will be more people hit and have their lives forever changed when a storm comes tearing through and ripping everything to shreds.

I think of past storms that happened in the not too distant past.  Greensburg, Kansas was totally destroyed in 2007.  It took more than a few years but the town is rebuilt now.  Nashville, Tennessee had a storm come through the downtown area and did a lot of damage to the business section of the city.  We could go on and on naming storms that have happened in the last five to seven years.  Each storm has left a footprint that will live for a very long time in the communities.

The storm that hit my neighborhood was in 1957 and still today there remains reminders of that terrible tornado.  There is a park where children play and underneath that park are tons of debris from that tornado back in 1957.  There is a memorial to the event that happened in May of '57 and along side that memorial there are a series of trees planted for each fatality that the tornado took.  It is important to remember your history, the good and the bad.  The fair and the unfair.  We still remember our storm.  I am sure that the people of Tuscaloosa and Joplin will remember their storms that created so much destruction in 2011.

Think of them and pray for them as they continue to rebuild.  It is going to take awhile.

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