Monday, May 2
My parents live in Gardendale, a suburb just north of Birmingham. Wednesday morning we woke up to thunderstorms, but they didn't do any damage in our area. The sky then turned blue and stayed that way for most of the morning. The weather forecasters made it clear, however, that a storm unlike any of them had ever seen before was coming in the late afternoon and early evening. Yikes.
Fortunately my parents are smart and were overall extremely prepared. Their "safe spot" is in their basement, and it's stocked with food, water, first aid kits, flashlights, etc. It also, conveniently enough, doubles as the toy room and the workout room. Treadmills are great in the case of an emergency.
Mom and I wanted to run an errand in southern Birmingham before the weather started. We got a late start, though, so about 2:00 p.m. we were driving south, the sky was getting dark, and the clouds were moving fast. We both started to feel uneasy, but we were so close to our destination. The real wake-up call came when we reached a traffic light where the power was out, turned at the street anyway and found the road blocked by a gigantic tree that had pulled the power lines onto the road. That was enough for us to look at each other and say, "Let's go home."
We made it home without incident, and I even put Addy down for a nap upstairs. She'd been sleeping in a crib by a window, so I moved her to a pack-n-play in a closed off area. I even fell asleep (I was feeling a little sick) while watching the news and tracking the different storms moving from Mississippi to Alabama. I woke up a while later to see my mom's horrified face, watching a tornado on live television rip through Cullman County just north of us. That storm had just missed our area.
About 5:00 or 5:30, we watched another tornado as it tore through Tuscaloosa. The tornado was so massive that it gave me chills. I was speechless. I couldn't believe that monster of a storm was destroying people's lives as I watched. It just felt so wrong to be sitting there, doing nothing. And it was sickening to realize that it was only 50 miles from us and headed our way. It was expected to come through at 6:10.
That was when we all looked at each other and started packing to camp out in the basement. We already had the basic supplies downstairs, but I started packing a bag with clothes, diapers, bottles, and sturdy shoes for us. My parents grabbed medications, computer hardrives, important documents, extra batteries, and anything else we thought we might need. We filled up pitchers of water and brought them down with us too.
I had Skyped Doug about an hour before, and I tried to act like we were okay. But when we knew the storm was coming our way for sure, I called him again and started bawling because that's pretty much what I do. I just felt sick knowing I was responsible for keeping our baby safe, and after watching the other tornadoes I knew there would really be nothing I could do but pray.
About 6:00 the power went out, which was extremely unnerving because we couldn't watch the storm and know right where it was anymore. Luckily we did have a weather radio, which we brought in the basement with us. The tornado sirens kept going off. We just sat in lawn chairs like idiots listening for updates, while Addy played with toys, totally clueless to what was going on. They pushed back the time to 6:15, and even to 6:20. Those times came and went. We could hear the wind, hail, and rain, but never the "freight train" you're told to listen for. We couldn't believe how blessed we were.
So the worst of the storm passed by us. The power stayed off and the phones were down, but my cell phone was working off and on. I was able to talk with Doug who had been tracking the storm and watched it go through Birmingham and through Fultondale, a town just 3 miles away. He could see that more storms could still swing our way, so we stayed down in the basement for pretty much the rest of the night. We had a few storms that seemed to be heading our way, but they never did cut close to us again.
We heard on the weather radio that the coast was clear about 10:30 or so. The rest of the night was spent trying to check on neighbors and friends, receiving calls from my panicked sisters, and trying to calm down a bit.
The power was out the next day too, so my dad set up our generators and fixed other people's generators. They went to get extra gas for the generators (something we wish we had done before the storm came), only to find one gas station after another out of gas. As they drove down the interstate looking for a station that still had fuel, they really started to realize how close the damage was to us. Just a few miles away they could see entire sections of the forest with trees snapped in half. There were trees on homes, homes demolished, businesses without walls, and light poles bent over or curled.
There are entire neighborhoods in some parts of Birmingham that are gone. Homes lifted off their foundations, roofs ripped off, and cars thrown around. Tuscaloosa is demolished. People in our area have told us they've found pieces of mail from Tuscaloosa that the tornado lifted up and dropped here. They've found wills, mortgage bills, parts of houses, etc. Hundreds of people are still unaccounted for. It is freaking crazy what these storms can do.
On Saturday we helped with a home that had three big trees fall on it. The homeowners hid in the crawlspace and are fine. Unfortunately they don't have homeowners insurance. We helped for about 3 hours, and while we got a lot done, it was eye-opening to me how many hours it would take before things would be close to normal again.
The people around here have been amazing. There is a local radio station coordinating volunteers, donations, crews from other states, and so on. Stores are giving away water bottles, food, and other supplies. The power company has been working non-stop. They first told us we probably wouldn't have power until Monday, so we were shocked when it came back on late Thursday night. Unfortunately, there's also been looting like you wouldn't believe. I guess something like this brings out the best and the worst in people.
I've taken pictures, but I can't upload them until I have my cord back at home. I just can't believe what happened in such a short time. I feel so grateful that we are completely fine, and I almost can't believe how much I have while so many lost so much.
I hope you'll keep the Alabamians in your prayers. I don't know why bad things happen to good people, but I hope you'll pray for comfort, peace, and help for people that are suffering here.
In light of this and the tragedies in Japan and other places, I hope we'll all think about how prepared we are for a disaster. You may feel like a nutcase hoarding canned goods, flashlights, or extra water, but I believe God gives us the resources to prepare ourselves (and to help others) for a reason. Just do it.
Also, note to self: I can't handle living in Alabama. Nor can I handle my parents living here.