Four Years Ago Today: Remembering April 27, 2011 [VIDEO]
On one hand, it doesn't seem like it's been four years but on the other, it seems like a lifetime ago. Regardless, it feels like it happened in a dream, or rather, a nightmare.
April 27th is just another date on a calendar, unless you were in one of the many towns in the path of the massive EF-4 multi-vortex tornado the swept across the southern U.S. on the date in 2011. If you were in Tuscaloosa you know that date all too well. That day a mile wide tornado destroyed 13% of our city. When the twister first touched down in the Rosedale community, we were witnessing maximum sustained winds of 190 mph.
Ours was just one of the 355 tornadoes that touched down across the south from April 25-29, the largest tornado outbreak in United States history.
My memory of that day started with a call from Kimberly Madison at around 4:30am telling me there was a tornado warning for Tuscaloosa County. The wind outside my house was howling so I woke my wife and son up, got the dogs in the house and headed toward the basement. The wind shook our garage doors for the next fifteen minutes or so and then went silent.
I looked out the window when we went back upstairs and only saw a small tree lying on the ground at the back of our property. It appeared we had made it through; we got ready for school and work and were off.
We live in the Lakeview area so it normally takes me a half hour to get to work, this day that wasn’t going to happen. There was a tree down across the road I live on so I had to turn and head to work on Hwy. 216. When I got to Brookwood I decided to head down Covered Bridge Road to the interstate and encountered another tree down. After an hour of trying, I made it to work and went into “meteorologist mode” at that point. James Spann was on ABC 33/40 talking about what had happened and what was to come.
My on-air shift starts at 3pm. That day I think I was only actually live for the first thirty minutes or so when the first tornado warning hit the listening area. At that point we turned the stations to wall-to-wall coverage from James Spann knowing he could do a better job of tracking a storm than any of us ever did.
Around 4:50 - 5 pm, the sky over our station on Skyland Blvd. grew dark and eerie. Spann had been warning us all to, “lookout” for this storm and by the tone of his voice, I think everyone knew this wasn’t going to be just another simple storm.
About 5:10pm, I stepped out front of our studios, pointed my phone camera down Skyland Blvd. toward Lowe’s and captured this…
Horrified, I ran into the building to join my co-workers. We went to the upstairs patio in back of the building thinking we’d be able to see what was happening better from there. What we got was something we never expected. The tornado I had just watched form was in the back yard of the studio. In actuality, it was much further away but grabbed a tree from one of the properties behind us, uprooted it and threw it onto a garage. We bolted for the downstairs of the building and to safety.
I will never forget the moment when I culled enough courage to go outside and take in what had just happened. The sky was still dark, the streets rain soaked and there was an unnerving silence. Everything was quiet except for the sound of a hundred police, ambulance and fire engine sirens howling in the distance.
The tornado had taken our internet, phones, and TV connections with it so we were without a link to the outside world. Using our cellphones, we pieced together enough information to know the result wasn’t good.
In the days that followed, we spent hours in the studio. Taking phone calls, sharing information on our website and on Facebook, basically doing what we could to get the word of what had happened to the public. We took calls from people offering help, needing help, and even a few who had too much help. We tried to be an information station at that point and at times felt like air traffic controllers moving supplies around the city as orderly as we possibly could.
On this, the fourth anniversary of that day, please take a moment to remember and honor the memory of the 252 that lost their lives on that day and in the weeks that followed. Pray for peace in the minds of their friends and family.
Looking back now, I've learned a lot about myself and about my neighbors. Yes, we have a winning University who has brought many championship trophies to town, but we are a city of champions! When the chips fell, we banned together and put them back up. We pieced them together as one. I am proud to be a part of this community. Roll Tide!