Tornado tragedy remembered

Today marks the one year anniversary of the April 27 Alabama tornadoes. Please pause to reflect on how valuable life is and how to help. The regular Friday Fun column will resume next week.

I can remember where I was when the April 27 tornadoes struck Tuscaloosa, Birmingham and the surrounding areas. It wasn’t pretty. My friends and I were in the middle of finals and we were all in our computer lab scrambling to finish our portfolio, both for web and print, when suddenly the power went out. That’s when we knew that something was deeply wrong.

Our school is almost an afterthought now of Alabama’s largest employer: the University of Alabama at Birmingham health system. As a result, our classrooms share the power grid with the vast networks of hospitals and clinics not 20 blocks away. The substation is the building next to ours, and yet it there was a near total blackout as dusk started descending.

We packed up and left our glass fronted lab for the safety of the performing arts builiding next door. We took  shelter in the music practice rooms that make up the first floor interior of a thick walled Functionalist complex. Some band students throwing an apartment warming party nearby had already propped the electronic keypadded doors open with piano benches lest we all became locked inside. They were happy to share their snacks and punch with us. And so we waited.

Clausterphobia had set in before long as weather radios blared from phones, sirens and loudspeakers. What is a pack of curious college students to do? A few of us, partially lead by yours truely, armed with a camera phone and digital tape recorder went to stand on the enclosed theater loading dock. Winds were heavy. Thunder rolled. The sky darkened hours early.

We found ourselves on the east side of the top floor of our art building shielded from the wind by the structure. There we watched captivated the scene swirling ahead of us. Our view was lit only by the flashes of lighting striking dowtown a few miles northwest of us. It was an amazing show to watch as the lights burst into a rainbow of blues and violets against the green-black sky.

It wasn’t until later that we learned the line of storms spread nearly from the Gulf of Mexico to Kentucky with few breaks or how destructive the force had been. And yet as quickly as the tornado tore through town it swept onward leaving behind a trail of destruction in the inky twilight. (Just don’t tell my mother I wasn’t still in the music rooms.)

Watch video of the tornado.

Watch video of Mayor Bell and Birmingham Morning News host Scott Fitzgerald talk about the storm (short version).

View interactive map of the damage.



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