Two Years Ago In April

RMG1aThe following article appeared online in Digging for Dirt 2 years ago this month. When I wrote it, right after having experienced a tornado’s temper tantrum up close, I didn’t expect to be leaving Tuscaloosa behind and here I am in Michigan 1,000 miles away.

Distance may separate me from Tuscaloosa but not the memories that night and the following, days, weeks, months and now years created. I wouldn’t have revived the article but an individual who I had interviewed for a job a long time ago came across it and remembered me. That person contacted me and commented on the piece. In light of the fact that I’m in Michigan, I had to go back and reread it.

Stealing words from a song, “… time goes by so slowly and time can do so much… “ (Unchained Melody) makes me realize that while we can leave a place it never leaves us. It is forever etched in the recesses of our mind. Tuscaloosa is on the mend. I took a reminding drive along the same route I traveled on that night to remember and to see the changes, never realizing that a contact from my past would virtually be doing the same thing.

In memory of all those who died, suffered and lost so much then; in recognition of all those who are and have been putting the lives and structures back together…

Siege Of Tuscaloosa Alabama

Thank you for caring and for your prayers, they certainly must work because we’re still here and have not suffered any damage. I was on the phone when the sirens started whaling and were then suddenly joined by the unmistakable rumbling freight train–like roar of what was an F5 tornado. The twister had just finished grazing in Arkansas and Mississippi before feasting on Tuscaloosa.

I commented, “OMG, we’re getting hit with another tornado,” when suddenly the phone went dead, the lights blinked on and off and joined the phone service in a state of suspended transmission. I waited. Usually the power is off for a few minutes and then comes back on but not on Wednesday. It was down for the count. I decided that since I couldn’t work or talk or watch an episode of Bones I’d go to the gym. I left and up to the point where I make a right onto a residential street named Kicker, everything seemed quite normal. Once on Kicker every thing changed and I suddenly found myself on an excursion down the River Styx into Hades.

Treetops were missing; telephone poles were gone, power lines were snaked across the pavement in an array of twisted confusion. Police were directing traffic deeper into the pits of hell. As I slowly passed the intersection I would normally have turned left onto for the gym, I saw ancient trees humbled and forced by 163 mph winds, to expose their now-naked root systems. Tuscaloosa’s underground had been uprooted. As far as I could see there was nothing left standing, either manmade or nature grown.

Carried by a current of chaos, I mindlessly meandered through this now new underworld, observing rescue workers cutting the serpentine power lines from their energy source to render them harmless; others were dismembering trees to clear the way while others were sawing power poles into manageable lengths. Overriding this cacophony — saws, machines, the crackling of still-live power lines, the blaring of horns and straining of engines — was the screeching shrill of sirens screaming for everyone to clear the way; amplifying the fact that theirs was a life or death mission. Over the next 2 hours I counted 35 ambulances.

If this wasn’t enough to traumatize my senses there were the reeking smells of disaster — burned lumber, rubber, plastic, garbage; gas rushing from ruptured lines; the unmistaken ozone smell of unleashed electrical energy.

Water escaping from broken waterlines celebrated its freedom by spewing a hundred feet into the black foreboding sky then crashing down, adding to the ever-growing mess accumulating everywhere. The trek down Tuscaloosa’s version of the River Styx finally brought me back to the upper world and onto University Boulevard. My lightened mood suddenly darkened when I discovered that I had escaped from one hell only to find myself in another. I knew that I was leaving Homer’s Hades and descending into Dante’s Inferno.

I would go a few hundred feet and be instructed to turn around only to find myself moving into even more disastrous realms. Tuscaloosa became a labyrinth. I found my self trapped in a maze of growing terror. Remember, I was not alone; I was alone in my car but a member of the mass that moved with me looking for an escape from this nightmare. I kept shouting to myself, “Wake up! Wake up! Wake up so this can end.” It still hasn’t…

After 2 hours I was finally able to get onto the interstate and creep for home. Tractor-trailers were the new debris that littered the median and right hand embankments.

After exiting the Interstate I got home traveling though dark abandoned streets. As I opened the door to my house my ever-faithful staff, Remus and Milli, greeted me. We shared the dark house and the silence that only a disaster can create. Although none of my clocks worked, time still moved ahead; after 26 hours the power blinked itself back on; slowly electronic life was restored to my TV, my phones, my computer and the Internet.

This saga continues. I am fortunate, blessed, lucky because I had no damage and more significantly suffered no family or friend losses. I suffered only inconvenience. For thousands of my neighbors the journey through Hades will last days, weeks, months, years and even forever. Pray for them, please…


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