In 2011, Mark McGriff was a student at the University of Alabama. He also worked at 957 JAMZ in Birmingham, known fondly as “Shady.” He was on my team, and he is an awesome talent. Now, he is the Production Director for Townsquare Media Tuscaloosa and does afternoons on ALT 101.7 and Saturdays on 92.9 WTUG.

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Mark loves all things roll tide and is a proud 2012 graduate of the University of Alabama. He lived in Alberta City while attending UA. He clearly remembers the events that unfolded during the tornado outbreak on April 27, 2011.

April 27 is permanently embedded in my radio and meteorology career. I don’t think any of us thought that we would live to see a generational tornado outbreak. Seriously, it is something that happens every 30-40 years.

Mark often reflects on the “April 27 Tuscaloosa Tornado” as it approached his apartment complex in Alberta City. He lived on the second floor, but his neighbor told him and his roommate to take cover in his apartment. Before the tornado hit, Mark was able to grab his cat and then saw the massive tornado. He remembers hearing the words from James Spann, “If you are in Tuscaloosa, Take! Cover! Now!” – They did.

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As the tornado grew much closer, the group of UA students took cover in the bathroom, and all they could do was to “hold on.” Mark said it feels like being in a "vacuum because you can feel it pulling on you, and it sounds like a freight train.”

The thoughts that ran through his mind were that he “would never see his family again.”

Tuscaloosa Tornado, Tornado, West Alabama Tornado, April 27 Tornado
Photo Courtesy of Mark McGriff

Once the tornado passed the area, Mark and his friends had to literally dig themselves out of the bathroom to discover the complete devastation.

There was nothing left.

Later, Mark did find his bed comforter and some clothes. That’s all. His cat was missing.

There was only one injury at his Alberta City apartment complex: a hearing-impaired man who had a broken leg. They carried him out using a door as a stretcher.

He thanked the sheriff’s office for giving him and his friends a ride to the University of Alabama’s student center. Mark said the Freshman of 2011 offered beds so those affected by the storms could have a place to sleep.

As we all know, cell reception was hit-and-miss during this time. I remember frantically calling Mark numerous times while I was on the air because I had a feeling that the tornado was close to his apartment.

I was wrong; it was a direct hit.

When Mark finally answered the phone, he said, “Mary K, I’m alive.” Those in the studio rejoiced along with me. We could rest easy knowing that each staff member of our team and their family was safe.

Many years later, thinking about this brings tears to my eyes. I can't help to think, what if Mark stayed on the second floor? What if the neighbor didn't offer a safe place. 

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In a remarkable turn of events, his cat was underneath rubble for two days. He attributed it to “God’s timing” because he was there when the EMS found her.

Mark said he would never forget how the “people of Tuscaloosa, the authorities, and how everyone came together during this terrible day. It brought out the best in Tuscaloosa and the people around. We are Tuscaloosa Strong.”

April 27th Alberta City Tornado Damage

Gallery Credit: Mary K

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