Help Us Continue the Story
“Relationships have been built and friendships have been made, all because of a storm. I’m proud to be an American but more proud to be an Alabamian.” - Rev. Kelvin Croom
At Dateline Alabama, we know we did not get all the stories. There are hundreds. If you or a loved one has a story and wants to share, please contact us. We will continue to post and add them to the web site. Whether you were in a dorm with your friends or on 15th Street, we want to hear about it. Below are stories that have been shared since the publishing of this website.
Hannah Brewer Cheryl Hall
Blount Hall, University of Alabama Basement of Bevill Building, University of Alabama
At the time of the tornado, I lived in the Blount living learning community on campus. It was Blount formal that night so everyone was putting on dresses, running down the hallway to solicit opinions on which shoe to wear, and halfway through curling their hair when the tornado siren went off. The tornado siren had gone off a couple times that week, so most people kept getting ready and talked about the night ahead as if the siren was a mundane ritual without meaning. After the sirens had been on for a while, the dorm’s resident advisors went down the hallways knocking on doors telling everyone to come out to the second floor. The first floor of the building consisted of wide open rooms with glass walls, so we all grabbed our blankets and laptops and camped out in the second floor hallway. It was when we were all huddled together watching live feed of the tornado on our laptops that we realized the stark reality of what was happening.
We watched the tornado on our lit screens go straight for the hospital. The hallway was in stunned silence as the announcer stated that DCH hospital had been obliterated and nothing was left. The announcers, anchors, and news stations didn’t know what was happening. They stated estimates of how many people had probably died, where the tornado would go, and how long it would last, but nobody knew. After a couple more minutes the announcers stated that DCH hospital had suffered wind damage, but still stood and its patients safe. Someone ran into the hall from their rooms and said they could see the tornado from their window and that it was close by the stadium. We all sat as quiet as we could, as if we could hear it coming if we held our breath. I don’t know how long it actually lasted, but it felt as if we had been sitting in that hall pressed together for hours. A voice came over the loudspeakers in our dorm saying that the tornado was over.
We slowly stood and walked out onto the lawn. One of the gutters had been ripped off the building by the wind, but there wasn’t much other damage we could see. The venue where we were supposed to have formal called one of the seniors and said half of his staff had lost their homes. A group of us went to Lakeside Dining Hall because we had heard they were giving out all their food and would be empty soon. It was a mad house. There were students and Tuscaloosa community members alike flooding the staired entryway, the crowds pushed right past the cash registers. Lakeside staff was just handing out food to whoever was closest and there seemed to be no semblance of order. We grabbed our food and pushed back outside to walk to the dorm. We went to bed that night dressing and brushing our teeth in the dark.
The next day a group of us decided we should stock up on food. Due to the numerous road closures, it took us an hour to get to the closest grocery store. We went into the Piggly Wiggly and grabbed our food from the scarce food supply left on the shelf. We went across the street to an empty parking lot and sat on a curb eating bread, applesauce, fig newtons, and lunchables. On the drive home, we were rerouted by a member of the National Guard to a street through a neighborhood that had been cleared.
The devastation was unbelievable. Houses had been reduced to concrete slabs and rubble. One family sat in folding chairs on the concrete slab that was their home while a little boy on a dirty tricycle rode in circles around the chairs. My jaw dropped when I saw a refrigerator lodged in a tree. We rode in silence as we drove through the neighborhood and watched all the families sit on the rubble that used to be their home. I remember feeling helpless as I looked at them trying to think of something I could do that would make any difference, I remember not having any cash in my wallet. We had almost made it back to campus when we got the message that finals had been cancelled. We cried together in the back seat of the car and joked that at least we didn’t have to take our Blount final. I called my parents moments later and they rushed home from work to get in the car to start driving to Tuscaloosa from Dallas that day to get me. I remember feeling lucky I could leave.
Thankfully I was on campus when the tornado was ravaging Tuscaloosa. But at the time, I wasn't so sure campus was the safest place to be. The last image that was burned in my mind was the tornado right behind Bryant Denny. Then we lost all power in the building. I was convinced the tornado was heading our way on the north side of campus. I was about to be terrified again once I found out the actual path it took.
Morgan II Apartments, Tuscaloosa
I left for my evening class when I got the email it had been cancelled. I returned to my apartment where my sister, freshman at the time, was hanging out. Not fully knowing what was headed our way, our mom called from Cincinnati, OH to check in on us. As we started to track the storm on tv, the cable went out so we grabbed my laptop to track it online. As we began to see the storm approach online, our mom advised us to get in the bath tub together and cover ourselves with blankets, pillows, anything we could get our hands on. My sister was texting her pledge sister, where we found out the tornado was headed from downtown towards the stadium, with the apartment in it's direct path. As my sister was telling me this, my mom was telling both of us to stay calm and pray, she kept telling us she loved us and then the phone went out.
The bathroom was dead silent for what seemed like a lifetime, my sister and I holding hands repeating the words 'I love you'. Everything in the room started to shake, the tornado sounded like a train getting louder as it approached and all we could do was sit there, crying, not knowing what God's plan was for us in the next 5min. As the room became silent again, everything still, we waited what again seemed like a lifetime, and then got out of the tub to go see outside. Everyone was walking around, seeing only a small amount of damage done to roofs and trees, wrapping our heads around the eery energy of the event that just occurred. My sister and I decided to go drive around, looking to see the damage, and try to find friends to make sure everyone was okay. We drove to DCH where we saw what used to be McFarland and 15th, headed toward The Retreat and recognizing only what was now a memory, everything was gone. People were running in the streets crying and screaming for help, I knew at that moment this was going to something apart of my life forever. Every sensory was on overdrive and I was just trying to grasp what I was experiencing.
The next morning I was meeting up with friends to go help on 15th St, when I was told of my friend's passing. To hear her story, and what ultimately led to her death, it put chills on every bone in my body because I knew the exact thoughts that were probably going through her head right before she was ripped and then thrown from her apartment. It was that feeling of uncertainty and helplessness, it could have just as easily been my sister and I rather than my friend.
Two weeks after the tornado, I moved to NYC for an internship, where I also got the tattoo: IV.XXVVII.MMXI . Not that I will ever forget April 27, 2011, but it was my way of honoring my friend and what I had gone through. I didn't return to Alabama the following school year for more reasons than one, but I did make a point to come back for the first football game of the following season…where anyone from Alabama would understand the healing in that moment for Tuscaloosa. I had to be apart of it to feel like I could move on. ROLL TIDE ROLL!