I was lucky. Wednesday, April 27, was unbelievable.
We had already had a couple of Tornado Warnings as early as 6am that morning, but we kind of blew them off. I was sleepy and I grew up in the South so Tornado Warnings were not terribly alarming to me. For the last few years, most tornadoes had tracked north or south of us and 1989 was the last time one hit close (just a mile from my office, it wiped out my father-in-law's apartment building and killed nearly 20 people). I had grown complacent and barely talked myself into getting up to check the weather reports.
By the time I had the TV on, the storm had already passed but had done some major damage to the south of us. At this point, the TV Weather people were saying we were in the clear until around 3-4pm, when they expected the worst of the storm to hit.
Schools were delayed a couple of hours so I stayed home from work and took my son to school around 10am. The skies were already looking strange with that greenish glow that anyone who lives in tornado prone areas would recognize.
An hour later, they announced school would be letting out just after noon because of the weather. I finished what work I could and went to get my son. By the time I got there, we were under another Tornado Warning and as it is school policy not to release kids under a warning, I and a hundred other parents sat in the parking lot, waiting. The sky to the west was pitch black. That wasn't good. The rain started off heavy and got worse. Within minutes it was so thick I could not see the car in front of me. The hail started to pound the car so hard I thought the windows would break. I could not see it at the time, but trees (big trees) were snapping and even coming up by the roots all around us. Ten minutes later it cleared up and fifteen minutes after that they canceled the warning and school let out.
It wasn't a tornado, but only because it never touched down.
The rest of Alabama was not as lucky as I was and those students and other parents were. Tornadoes ripped through nearly every part of the state and killed and destroyed on a massive scale. I lived through the 1974 Super Outbreak, and this was worse.
Other than hail damage to the car and roof and some fallen trees, our biggest problem was having no power for five days, since the tornadoes decided to destroy over 80 power transmission lines feeding north Alabama.
With no power, stores could not open. People could not get gas or food. The water treatment plant was on a generator, so water was limited. All phone lines (land or cell) were out, so finding out if your relatives and friends were okay was nearly impossible. The local radio stations were our only way of knowing what was going on and how bad things really were.
It was a recipe for disaster and chaos.
Instead, it was one of our finest hours.
Within hours of the storms and the blackout, grocery stores were opening back up, running on generators, staying open as long as they could to allow people the chance to stock up on food and water. Thousands of volunteers from all over the state and other states began to arrive and help out. Power was restored to the badly overburdened hospitals and the water treatment plants. The radio stations kept everyone informed as to where they could get food and gas and when power might be restored and where to bring donations and where to go volunteer. Neighbor helped neighbor with whatever they needed to get by.
Slowly, we are recovering. Last night the power came back on at our house. Tomorrow I'll go back to work. For me, things will be almost back to normal.
I was lucky. Thousands of people in Alabama and several other states were not.