Ten years ago today was one of the scariest days of my life.
I will never forget it. I was at my high school that morning (Hillcrest for you locals), just by coincidence (it was a Saturday). I think I had to take one of those pre-college tests…I can’t really remember which one. I will never forget walking out to the car and it just being very, very balmy…almost like summer. It was also so windy. It was just one of those days that didn’t feel right.
A few hours later we figured out why.
It was the weekend before Christmas, so I was at a Christmas party in McCalla (about halfway between Birmingham and Tuscaloosa) with my grandmother and brothers. My dad works in parts sales, so my mom was helping him with end of the year inventory that weekend…so they weren’t with us. That becomes important later.
This video really sums up what happened.
We had the TV on James Spann (as most typically do in Alabama during bad weather) during the Christmas party, and this caught my eye at about the point that this clip starts. It was one of those “feel the blood rush out of my face” moments. I knew exactly where this was the second they showed it.
Scary Part #1: If you watch this, there is an itty bitty water tower right below the tornado…that is literally across the street from my high school. We lived about two miles from the high school at that point. Keep in mind we were 45 minutes away from home, and my parents weren’t home…so that was our only reference as to whether or not our house was still there.
Scary Part #2: My dad works at a car dealership on Skyland Boulevard. The tornado went straight from our area of town to Skyland (they mention that several times in the video). As soon as I heard this, I called my mom (back in the EARLY days of cell phones)…she told me the power was already out, but they were watching the tornado. I took me a minute to figure out they weren’t watching it on TV, but out the front window.
At about 5 minutes into the video, they say that there is “extensive damage to the Englewood community”…well, that’s our neck of the woods. That’s when I just fell apart.
We obviously left as soon as the weather was safe enough to figure out what happened. I remember seeing the first bit of damage…if you’re from Tuscaloosa, it was the JVC plant you can see from the interstate. Part of the roof was torn off of it.
We got to my house a little while later, and thank God, it was ok. We had been about a mile out of the damage path. The rest of the day was spent trying to figure out what happened. Nobody was allowed into the damage area without proof that they lived there. I had several friends that basically lost their house that day. Just like with most high schools, there are several neighborhoods around it…this one was no different. Many, many people I knew lived in those houses.
The worst part was that this was the week before Christmas. I remember the next day driving in the area. In the ditches, there was debris that had blown in. It was covered with the snow that fell that night while people were trying to clean up everything they had…this was the day after it had been in the 70’s and balmy. It was just surreal.
It’s just a day I will never forget. Thank God that’s the closest I’ve ever gotten to knowing what it’s like to lose every belonging I have, and it makes me so thankful to have a roof over my head.
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