If you haven't heard Alabama was hit by a major tornado that ripped through the entirety of the state. As student at The University of Alabama I was a witness to the devastation of the tornado (but thankfully not the brunt of it). The dorm I work in has way too many glass windows on the first floor so we carted the majority of the students onto the second floor hallway.
The alarm system for the university went off notoriously late (about thirty to forty minutes before the actual tornado hit) leaving a majority of students still on campus either stranded or unable to check on friends and loved ones. Thankfully, this was a blessing in disguise, divine intervention, coincidence, pure luck, etc for those who were on campus.
We had major difficulty hauling all of the children in the dorm into one main location. You just have those people who don't take natural disasters as seriously and it's not without merit. Previously, every time a storm or tornado watch was issued for The University nothing happened. I would assume this left most students indifferent to the potential danger coming their way. Whatever the reasoning was, this the tornado of April 27th, 2011 proved to be one of the most devastating natural disasters in the south since Hurricane Katrina.
A few our misfit students hid out at the top floor of the building to get a better glimpse of the entire scene. They had the privilege of being the first students in the dorm to see the tornado first hand when it touched down near Bryant-Denny Stadium.
From here most would have assumed the tornado would have made a B-line for The University and we would have been right in line of its path, but the tornado veered off its supposed course completely leaving The University untouched and its student's safe.
Unfortunately, other parts of Tuscaloosa were not so lucky. The tornado decimated 15th Street and Mcfarland Blvd, the main hubs of Tuscaloosa activity except for Campus and downtown Tuscaloosa. Places kids were use to visiting such as University Mall, Krispy Kreme, Hobby Lobby, and Rite-Aide had been either completely swept off the map or torn apart.
Still, the city of Alberta fared much worse than Tuscaloosa. The entire scenery has been destroyed to the point you could not tell it was ever standing. Adding to this, thousands have been injured or are in need of medical attention. So far the official death toll for Alabama is 86, but that number is steadily rising since they are only counting bodies with confirmed identities. The death toll for the tornado across state lines is much larger pushing past 300+.
Immediately when the storm hit we lost all power on-campus. The lights in the dorm flickered then a few seconds later went pitch black. The feeling was surreal. As you looked outside towards the rest of campus you could only see pitch black save the few flickers of light in distance from Rose Towers, a student based apartment building on the outskirts of campus.
The back-up generators came to life leaving us as the only building on campus with lights. Still, they had never been used for such a large emergency so how long they would last stood as an issue. From the outside we looked like a beacon calling others in. It wasn't long before other students streamed in along with our own residents. One friend of mine, Trey Moe, lost everything but the clothes on his back and his sense of humor. When he made it over to my building he recounted how the tornado flipped his bathroom tub over him. He got buried under a small amount of debris, but he was overall intact. The same couldn't be said for the majority of his belongings.
Other affected students roamed in since we were the only area on that side of campus that at least had lights, but around 3am I had my fill so I opted to hit the sheets.
The next day upon waking up I was urged by fellow students and individuals outside of the problem zone to get out and document as much of the aftermath as possible.
Going out into the rubble of what was left was a site I had seen since the earthquake I lived through when I was a child in Los Angeles. Many spots in Tuscaloosa stood true to their mark, but certain areas had a Mad Max-esque atmosphere. The terrain was the same, but the touch of tornado left everything off place.
For a few miles you could see into the horizon. Hundreds of people (students, Tuscaloosa residents, police, volunteers, etc...) littered the streets. It was equivalent to a deathly tourist attraction. Live wires still hung limp on the ground. Pipes were half-bent as water continuously sprayed onto the streets. Workers and police had already populated the scene, but not enough to stop the incoming individuals surveying the damage of the storm.
I walked for about four hours photographing and got around 500 pictures and I want to share some of those I think best portray the situation,
You can check out the Crimson White article of the entire event HERE. To check out this set of pictures on flickr check here or here.