FORECAST - Followers of Rural East-Central Alabama Storm Trackers

Tuesday, June 14

Life After Tornadoes

I've missed you guys.  ALOT!!  I know I've been a bit lax lately about writing on here, and I honestly had several  recipes I was going to share with you all by the beginning of May, but then Mother Nature decided to play a VERY cruel game with my neck of the woods, and things haven't been the same since.  Alabama got SLAMMED with tornadoes on April 27th, 2011...and our whole world changed in an instant.

For those who know me on Facebook, I run a local weather group...Etowah Weather Watchers.  We're an open group who keeps a close eye on the weather in our county (Etowah), as well as all the surrounding counties (Blount, Calhoun, Cherokee, Dekalb, Marshall and St Clair).  I actually have a program on my laptop that gets real-time NEXRAD radar, as well as satellite imagery...the whole she-bang.  On that particular day, the northern half of our state was under a TorCon rating of 9 (tornado condition ratings go from 1 to 10...10 is the worst).  As I watched the weather develop that day, I knew we had severe trouble coming...little did I know that the term "severe" wouldn't even come close to what we were facing. 

I watched in horror as the cities of Tuscaloosa and Birmingham were decimated with what turned out to be an EF4 rated tornado (there were actually 2 EF5 tornadoes that bad as it gets).  These were long-track tornadoes...solid as rocks, mean as pit vipers, and ripping everything in their paths to shreds.  The one that struck Tuscaloosa and Birmingham did lift for a brief period of time...just long enough to move about 2 miles, then touch down again, and head for my area.  Unfortunately, we lost some of the mainstream TV coverage as it crossed out of the big cities...not because of power loss, but because we sit in an area that simply doesn't get solid weather coverage.  So, I tracked it...kept posting constant updates on position, strength...and watched as it moved closer and closer.  We prepped our house (we have no storm cellar...most houses here don't), got our pets crated and covered, and prepared for the worst, because this monster was tracking DIRECTLY for my house.  Here's the radar image of it...the last one I got before we DID lose power, and the only warning we had other than the sirens going off...

See the little green dot right under the name Hokes Bluff (right at the edge of the warning box on the right center of the pic)?  THAT is my house...GPS logged to show my position.  Where you see the circle and inverted triangles (pink), THAT was the tornado.  I got this shot, fired it off to my group...and lost power.  No radar, no nothing.  No way to know if that beast was going to come barrelling over the hill behind my house and kill me, my roomies, our way to know.  All we could do was wait and hope.

We heard it...honestly, I hear people talking about the sound of freight trains, but to me, this sounded like a jet engine...loud and snarling.  We knew it was just moments from us...and we were helpless to change a thing.

Yet...time passed...the snarling got louder, the wind was ferocious...then it started to quiet down.  We waited a few more minutes, then crawled out from where we were hiding (under a that would have saved us).  Cautiously, we stepped outside...and though we could still hear it, we could tell that for some miraculous reason, the tornado had apparently turned, and crossed our area to our east.  I have to admit...I think all of us were actually in shock that we escaped unscathed!!

I'm a member of CERT (Community Emergency Response Team...GREAT program for anyone to be in, btw), and I KNEW this thing had to have done some damage somewhere, so I grabbed my response kit, jumped in my car, and headed east.  I didn't have to go far...maybe 2 miles down the road...and suddenly, I was there.  Trees tossed like flipped...houses GONE (not just flattened, but completely missing).  I went to the first place I could reach, and started helping.  It was a house, knocked off it's foundations...and there were 3 people trapped underneath (they tried to crawl under the house when the beast crested the hill behind them).  Didn't destroy their house, though it would have been better if it, it just knocked it over enough to pin them to the ground with the floor joists.  Mom, dad, and daughter.  Got the dad out...he had multiple fractures.  Got the mom out...she had fractures and a punctured lung.  Got the daughter out...both lungs punctured, body almost completely crushed...she was only 13 years old, and lost her life to the beast.  I held her hand as the last breath left her body. 

It changes a person, you know? The carnage...the takes it's toll.  I've spent hours asking, why her?  Why not me instead?  I'm 45...disabled...why take such a young life that has yet to be lived, and not me?  Even now, after all this time, I'm crying from the absurdity of it, the wastefulness of it.  She should have grown up.  She should have grown up.

I went back a few days later, and got some pictures of just a taste of the devastation.  Here's a select few...

The last picture is close to the house the girl died in.  They lived back close to the hill.  ALL these pictures are within a 2 mile radius of my home.

Since then, I've been heavily involved with recovery...helping to feed volunteers, raising funds to pay for bulldozer work, stuff like that.  I promise...I WILL get back to blogging recipes.  But for now, life is very different...and I'm hoping that writing this particular post will help ME recover.  Here's hoping that NONE of my followers EVER have to face something like this.  I love you all.

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