April 27, 2011. The city of Tuscaloosa, Alabama had a path of destruction carved right down through the middle of town, narrowly missing the campus.
It was a tornado that the south never use to worry about too much. At least that is the way it seems to me. It seems like tornado alley is slowly moving southward and away from the northern plains in Minnesota, North and South Dakota, Northern Nebraska and northern Iowa. Meanwhile Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Kentucky and Tennessee have been having these deadly twisters bear down on them more often and earlier in the spring than ever before.
I sat there a year ago watching the video coming out of Tuscaloosa. It was devastating. I have a fair number of family living in that part of the state, a lot of them just outside Tuscaloosa in a town called Northport. I had already hear that everyone was okay. Everyone in my family anyway. There were others that weren't so lucky as my family. People lost their lives in this sudden tornado that seemed to come out of nowhere. Houses were destroyed leaving thousands homeless and not knowing what to do.
I consider the Tuscaloosa area as my adopted second home town. I watched the video and could see landmarks that I once knew that were either gone or had debris spread all around them. I saw the good people of Alabama in tears as they looked over what use to be their homes. My Nephew in Law's father complete lost his house and almost everything he owned. Luckily, where Mr. Porter lives they have a community shelter and he was in that shelter while the tornado tore apart what was left of his life. His wife had just died not very long before the tornado and while he was still feeling that loss, he had another huge loss tossed on top of that. I met Mr. Porter about six months after the tornado event, and he seemed to be in good spirits. He had a smile on his face and firm handshake. Somehow he was in the midst of dealing with all of this. In those few moments of meeting Mr. Porter, I realized why I respected his son, my nephew, so much. He was a strong man who cared about others and kept a smile in spite of the events that could crush a lesser man. My nephew has a lot of those qualities.
Another of my nephews took some heavy equipment into Tuscaloosa and helped with search and rescue teams that went from block to block through the town. He stayed and helped with the initial cleanup for days and at many hours at a stretch. He had never seen such destruction as he was working in last year at this time.
MY niece, knowing how I feel about Tuscaloosa, came up to visit a few months after the tornado struck. She brought me a t-shirt that had a ribbon of the left chest on front. The ribbon was decorated with houndstooth, a signature design for the University there in honor of the late football coach Bear Bryant. under the ribbon was a simple, 04-27-11 indicating the date of the storm. On the back is a big ribbon design with hounds tooth that again has the date but in big script lettering it says "We ARE Tuscaloosa". I felt honored to get that shirt. Made me realize that at someone, namely my family, knew how I felt about that city. I began to wear it on a regular basis.
I went back to Tuscaloosa a few times last year after the storm. The last time I was there in October, my sister drove me through the tornado devastated areas to see how much progress had been made in the clean up. It also showed me how much more cleanup had yet to be done. You can still see the path that the tornado took across town. Slowly the town is starting to come back to life. I imagine it will take another five years or so for Tuscaloosa to get to the point where the citizens can tell each other what a hard job it was to rebuild, but my was it worth it.
A few weeks after Tuscaloosa was hit, one of the towns in my state of Missouri was blown away by a tornado. Joplin, Missouri is about the same size as Tuscaloosa. Joplin got hit just as hard, if not harder than Tuscaloosa did. The people of Joplin and Missouri are in the process of rebuilding just as the people of Alabama are. Joplin will survive as well.
There is a certain pride one has in their home towns and their states that cause people to come together and work as one huge family to get things set back right. I saw that movement in Tuscaloosa and I saw it in Joplin as well. The world can be a difficult place at times and there are people who just aren't meant to get along. But when a disaster like the one that tore apart Tuscaloosa and the one that flattened Joplin come along, all those petty differences seem to be put aside and the community becomes one as they get their lives back in order.
Last Friday was April 27th, 2012. The one year anniversary of the Tuscaloosa tornado. I couldn't wear my t-shirt to the office, but Saturday morning as I got ready to do chores and run out to the grocery store and do what I ordinarily do on Saturdays, I donned that special t-shirt that my niece had given me commemorating the one year mark of the devastation before I left the house.
Keep working Tuscaloosa. Keep working Joplin. The Missouri side of me and the Alabama side of me is very proud of both states and both cities. May it be a long time before either of you face this kind of destruction again.