Monday, May 9, 2011

i don't know where to start....

bare with me. this might be a long post, and quite frankly all over the place.

I will start with last Wednesday (4/27), the day that changed Tuscaloosa and the state of Alabama forever. I woke up at 5am to hail beating against my window. I was mad because I knew I wasn't going to be able to go back to sleep before my alarm went off at 5:40. I laid there and laid there until my stupid alarm went off. I quickly checked our school's website to see if we were going to school - nothing. About 6:20, I was finally about to get out of bed when I got a text saying we didn't have school. I called 2 co-workers ranting a raving because I didn't want to make up that day at the end of the year and I didn't understand WHY we were getting out. One of them said there was another line of storms coming from Mississippi and she thought that was why they called it. Well, ok, but I was NOT happy about it. We already got 2 days off taken away from us due to snow days, I was not happy about having to make this day up. Little did I know what was in store for that day.

My old roommate, Lauren lost power so she ended up coming over around 8:30. We were both mad because we couldn't ever go back to sleep so we just gave up and she came over. She brought me Chick-fil-a and we ate it in bed and watched Friends for a good 3 hours. She needed to run some errands that day and wanted to go get them done before the next round of storms came. The time the next storms were coming were all over the place, I heard 1, then 2, then catch my drift.

I went to lunch with a co-worker and we chatted for a good hour after lunch. It got a little eerie outside so we decided it was time to go. Again, little did we know what was about to come. At lunch, we were joking that we would be mad if a storm didn't come because we would have gotten out of school for nothing. I have never regretted words as much as I regret those!

I went home and snuggled in my bed more. I put the news on and our oh so amazing weather man, James Spann, was on the tv updating us every second on what was going on. Casey and Brooke (my roommates) returned home withing the next hours.

I wasn't really keeping up with time after that but we kept hearing 4, then 4:30, then 5 as to when the tornado was coming. We went out on our balcony for at least an hour "waiting for it" with our neighbors who were also on their balcony. The boys next door decided they were going to go downstairs to the 1st floor breezeway (we live on the 3rd floor) but I was against that. I just did not think that was safe. We talked about going and knocking on someone's door on the 1st floor and asking them if we could ride it out with them but decided against that too. We have been through SO many tornado warnings, why was this one any different? I talked Casey and Brooke into just riding it out in our apartment. We concluded that my bathroom was the innermost room in the apartment so we got Casey's mattress and went in the bathroom to get ready. We finally heard James Spann say...IF YOU ARE IN TUSCALOOSA CITY, GO TO YOUR SAFE PLACE!!!! So we ran to the bathroom and I immediately got in the bathtub.

The mama in me came out when Casey and Brooke decided it was a good idea to stare out my window and watch the tornado come for us! All I heard was, "It's coming! I see debris EVERYWHERE!" and I screamed, "GET IN THIS TUB WITH ME!!!!!" They finally listened and closed the bathroom door and we hid under the mattress. The power quickly went out (our power NEVER goes out) and we were all alone, no tv or radio to tell us anything, in the dark. I can't really remember what I heard. Kinda like hard rain but it was probably debris and wind that I heard. I did get really scared when our power went out. But I never thought it would be as bad as what I was about to see. When the noises subsided, Casey and Brooke thought it was over. They thought it was fine to get out of the tub so we did. My phone was blowing up with people checking on me. I'm glad I could quickly tell my parents I was ok because soon after, the phone lines were ALL messed up and I might not have been able to get through to them.

The next few hours were very surreal. I felt like I was walking around in a movie.

When we first went outside, we saw our tree behind our apartment tat had fallen on our fence. We didn't think it was that bad. Just a few trees that had fallen. Brooke noticed that across the street from us looked weird but we couldn't really see much because our view is blocked.

We ventured out from our building and started walking around our complex. Buildings right next to ours had some damage but nothing really huge. There was debris everywhere but we still had no idea how horrible it was.

We quickly found out.

We heard some other buildings had some holes in them so we went across the complex to check them out. When we got to the other side of the complex, which faces the neighborhood across the street, we saw pure devastation  The whole neighborhood RIGHT ACROSS THE STREET from us was GONE. I had never seen anything like it. I was in shock. There were people walking around everywhere. People from that neighborhood were walking over to us. There was twisted metal in our complex, cars were damaged, trees were gone, houses were gone, wood was everywhere. The power line pole across the street was cut in half and the power line was hanging. I really felt like I was walking around in a movie. It was very surreal and it was starting to sink in just how close we were to the tornado's path. I kept thinking, we would probably be dead if it would have hit us because it definitely would have taken the 3rd floor off our apartment.

We tried to leave the complex in Brooke's car about an hour later but we couldn't really get anywhere. On our way out of the complex, we saw more devastation. The street that my complex is off of was gone. The houses were just literally gone. I couldn't believe it. All the businesses across from our complex were gone or badly damaged. It looked like the tornado was heading right for us and then literally turned and skipped right over us. A very weird feeling. God had his hand right over us. When we tried to leave, hundreds of people were walking towards us that had just lost their homes. I don't think I will ever get that image out of my head. I remember this man holding his infant to his chest walking towards us. The look on his face was the saddest thing I have ever seen. A face of fear, heartbreak, and loss. I wanted so badly to tell him to jump in the car with us and everything would be ok.

Within the next few hours we were getting sporadic calls and texts from friends and family members. Sadly, we did not think to charge our phones before the storm so ALL of our phone's were dying. We were hearing rumors of the devastation around Tuscaloosa and my heart was breaking. I just couldn't imagine all these places I have gone to so many times within the last 6 years just gone? How is that possible?

After a few hours we tried to venture out again and we went to Lauren's house to spend the night since we didn't have power. We hadn't eaten in HOURS and tried to go get food but every restaurant was PACKED.

I had a VERY hard time sleeping that night. I couldn't stop thinking about my kids. I live in our school's district and we got hit HARD. Everytime I closed my eyes I had a horrifying imagine in my head. Were my kids ok? Were they homeless? Where are they? How can I find them? My brain could not rest.

The next day we tried to drive around some but traffic was awful. It took us forever just to get to my apartment because so many roads were closed right around my complex. We finally made it and I packed my things and left to go to Birmingham. I felt guilty leaving but I had to get out.

The next few days are a blur. I couldn't be happy and not feel guilty. I didn't go ten minutes without thinking of my babies. I NEEDED to know if they were ok. I kept thinking to myself, "What was the last thing I said to them?" It was truly an awful feeling.

Saturday, dad and I went back to Tuscaloosa to help out. I saw most of the hard hit areas and I had to hold back the tears. I just couldn't believe it. The only word I can use to describe it is surreal. There are no other words.

Monday the teachers went back to school and we welcomed another middle school into our building because their school was destroyed. :( We gathered supplies to bring to the teachers across the city and county who lost their schools. It was a blessing to help those sweet teachers. It broke my heart to see them. Some lost years and years worth of stuff in their classrooms.

Wednesday the kids came back. I was full of emotions as I saw those babies walk down the hall. I teared up as I almost got tackled by my girls. I am so thankful for those hugs. I prayed for those hugs, and God granted me them that day.

Most of our kids disappointed us with their lack of understanding the severity of what had happened. Some lost their houses and still didn't really "get it". I guess its the age of immaturity, which could be a blessing that they are sheltered from the pain of what has happened to our town.

Our days have gone on and the clean up has begun. They have already started to bulldoze some of the businesses and gas stations on the main road in Tuscaloosa. It gives me chills to drive down that road and see our main intersection in town. The same road I have driven down THOUSANDS of times. That I literally don't recognize now. It is unbelievable to see all the neighborhoods just gone. Like they never existed. Completely flat. The old house I lived in is destroyed. Very hard to swallow.

It is still weird to believe that this devastating thing "happened to us". You never think it will. But it can, and it did to MY town.

I still catch myself wanting to "run by" some places such as Hobby Lobby or CVS (which are places I went at least once a week) only to stop and remind myself that those places are gone. Just today I wanted so badly to run into BigLots to try to find some bins to pack up my classroom and then I remembered that BigLots is just a pile of rubble. :(

I am very very thankful to be alive and have a roof over my head. The tornado came close enough to cause a huge wake up call for me. Snap me back into reality. I am not invincible. God had his hand RIGHT over me and for that I am forever thankful to my Savior.

I did take alot of pictures and if you are friends with me on facebook, you have probably seen them. I might post them later, but not in this post. This was for me to get my thoughts out. To vent, if you will. I'm sure you have all seen videos and pictures anyway, and if not, you can google them. They are all over the internet. Pictures really don't even do it justice anyways. It is nothing compared to seeing it in person. Especially when its YOUR town. YOUR restaurants. YOUR stores. YOUR neighborhoods. YOUR streets. Very surreal.

I will update later this week with ways you can help - no matter where you are. You can help.


  1. Kathleen,

    I am very glad you are ok! Thanks for doing this post...sadly after a tragedy happens somewhere and it doesn't happen to us, we tend to think about it for a few days and then move on. And I am guilty of that. Your post has reminded me that for the people affected, it doesn't just go away after a few days. After the "new" wears off, that's when the long drudgery of cleaning up the mess and starting over is just beginning. I will continue to pray for your town, and do let us know how to help! That must be so hard to see all that devastation in your everyday life. I am glad that the Lord spared your life though! Blessings to you!


  2. Your post gave me chills! It was traumatic enough being in Birmingham - I can't imagine being right across the street from the tornado! I'm so glad you're okay!