CBS42 is asking our viewers to share their April 27th stories. We want to know what happened to you that day. Did you aide someone else? Did someone help you? It was a day that forced neighbors and communities to come together for days, weeks, and in some cases months.
There are countless stories that have not been told… here is your chance to share your story… to thank a stranger. Or to let go of some of the pain. You can write us a story or you can send us a video. Just use the reportit feature right here on http://www.cbs42.com or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our first story comes from Cindy Doss in Pinson:
The storms of 2011 were the first that I have personally experienced… within days T4T (Toomer’s For Tuscaloosa) posted and I headed to TTown, I worked for 2 weeks at the Greek house across from the stadium, with Bama students…I am an AU fan and wore my hat, with Roll Eagle War Tide, taped across the front, they called Toomer’s the whole time… We loaded, unloaded trucks, cooked and delivered food all over the area, and I took several men down and put them on trucks to cut up trees in Alberta City… I stayed for over two months, driving back and forth to Bham, and worked in Cullman, Cordova, and Hackleburg… then I hit the ground for Chalkville, Clay and Center Point.. I could type forever to tell all the stories and horrors and blessings that I was part of … thanks for reporting on those who were “boots on the ground.” As our Holly Hart Shirley would say, I gave blood for the first time in my 50 years, cried with all kinds of folks, dug for memories, and prayed for hours on end. My friends let me beg, borrow, and almost steal whatever we needed. As soon as I asked, it appeared. So many memories and so many great stories, would love to share more… Good luck with your report. We got lots of CBS support from the station and from some of your reporters, they were wonderful.
Courtesy Cindy Doss
From LeAnn Ratcliffe in Pelham:
Today (May 1) my friend Sharon & I went to Tuscaloosa to volunteer at a triage area in Alberta City. I think my mind is still trying to process the amount of destruction. However bad you think pictures and video look, multiply by 100. Some of that is just now sinking in because we were so extremely busy while we were there.
When we were first getting into town we were struck at how close total destruction could be to places that looked completely untouched. For example, the mall looks ok, but it is very near where Hobby Lobby/Big Lots/Full Moon BBQ were. They are destroyed or gone. We had no trouble being routed to the Leland Shopping Center where the triage tents were set up. Already there were many volunteers out preparing food and organizing donations. This parking lot is the go to central place for help in Alberta City. Food, clothes, pet supplies, medical care, even haircuts were being offered. Pizza Hut had a semi set up that is a mobile pizzeria. The police mobile command unit is also there, in front of their badly damaged Alberta City precinct. The glass doors and windows there are very thick and look like they have been shot with machine guns. Along with TPD there are ABC officers assisting, as well as the National Guard.
The first thing we did was help set up the triage. It was divided into different areas – check in, vitals, wound care, orthopedic, hydration, diabetes, medication. There were several nurses there and doctors from DCH, including one named Dr. Pepper! A very special mention has to go to a group of athletic trainers from Auburn who drove three hours to bring (lots) medical supplies and help out. This was their first trip to Tuscaloosa and we hope they will come back.
Mike from Auburn and I had the opportunity to go out and help those who could not get to the triage. Many, many people are homebound because their vehicles were damaged or destroyed. We saw flat cars, cars in half, crumpled cars, cars in trees, cars under trees, trees through cars, even a car standing nose-down in a basement. We had to be driven into the neighborhoods. Our first outing was with the National Guard. Anyone out in a Humvee with them must wear a helmet. They must weigh a good 50 pounds. A military Humvee is not a luxury vehicle and not exactly the easiest vehicle to maneuver. Those out sightseeing made things difficult at times and should have been run over. JMO.
We first went to a specific address to check on an elderly couple at the request of the TPD. This house was intact and both were outside trying to stay cool. He is 90 and she is 84. She was delighted with the camo Band-Aids used to cover scratches. And she said “Lord have mercy!” when she saw that Mike was wearing an Auburn shirt. So many times throughout the day we got comments about how we, an odd couple of Bama & Auburn were working side by side. It was his first visit to Tuscaloosa. He was in Vegas when the tornado hit and he knew that when he got home he wanted to help. Mike was easy for me to keep track of. His shirt and his hair were just as Auburn as they could be.
We found that it was going to be easier for us to be out with the ABC officers. For one thing, their gator-type vehicle was much easier to get around in. These guys were out all over, watching for looters and we were invited along. We each had bags of most every type of bandage. We each also had our special items. Mike had eye black stickers for kids and I had smiley stickers. Amazing how much those were loved!
Going out into some of the worst damage was beyond heartbreaking. It’s funny how you don’t pay much attention to all the colors around until everything is the color of mixed playdoh. Just blah, lifeless, the death of a community as they knew it. Many of the places we all stop at on our way into or out of Tuscaloosa are destroyed or simply missing. Where is KFC? There was a badly damaged car still parked at what was left of Sonic. Was that someone’s last meal? The Shell station that has been a potty break before reaching the quad, destroyed, as was the Texaco. Auto Zone looked as if it was about four feet tall. One place we went by often was (what was left of) Bama Tan. So much destruction all around, it was amazing that it was even standing. The windows were missing and had been replaced by plywood. On the left front of the store was a mural that was untouched. It looked to be one of the few untouched things for miles. It was a picture of Bear Bryant. He watches over his town from University & 24th. One other familiar face still watches over Alberta City – the vintage, neon crescent moon Winx Lodge sign. 😉
Out to Crescent Ridge we met a little fella who thought this was nothing more than a good opportunity to play in the mud. He proudly wore his eye black stickers but was quick to inform me he would not be playing for Alabama. His mom had what appeared to be a large spider bite. She was sent on into the triage tent. In this area the scent of pine was very strong. Pine trees snapped but the oak trees fell over, leaving large root masses high in the air. This lady told us about how proud she was of all the work they had just done in the yard, about how beautiful it had been. Now their street was like an obstacle course to get to the corner where supplies were being distributed. Not far from there we checked on a young family. The little boy was maybe two and asked me in his sweet little voice to check on his doggy, Sugar. Sugar was an old, white, amazingly calm and sweet Chihuahua. And she was ok, much to the delight of her little friend. We met a man carrying supplies to his home by way of his electric wheelchair. Many, many of the homeowners do not want to leave due to the threat of looting. From this area you can see the exact, perfectly cleared path the tornado took over the mountain.
Speaking of looting…the officers got a call about possible looters and found them in no time. They both had new chainsaws and were very vocal. Mike & I did not know what to do while watching this exchange so we went to check on the people in the area. Lucky day for Mike, we found a lady who liked skinny white boys! Lol! It turned out the would be looters did not have to join our group.
Most people we came across had all the water they thought they could ever want or need. Some visits were as simple as providing a Ziploc bag for an elderly lady to put her insulin in a cooler of ice with. Some wanted their blood pressure checked. One lady realized she had not taken her BP meds and finally found them in her purse, which was in the trunk of her car. Her neighbor sat in a chair at the end of their street and was pretty much in a daze. I could not blame him. This particular street was the absolute worst that we saw and I do not understand how any of them survived. He showed us the “second pile of stuff” and said it was once his home. It was unrecognizable. Despite his sadness he had two requests – that I give him a tetanus shot and that we share the meal they were cooking. I hope that dear man never knows a hungry day, but I’m afraid he is having some.
When we had gone back to triage to pick up some tetanus apparently I walked by Rev. Jessie Jackson and did not even notice. Focused! A random lady offering me a hot dog from her car window as she drove past, did, however, get my attention. This is funny because I have a thing about hotdogs. A hotdog once gave me food poisoning and I will forever be funny about them. But – this was the best hotdog ever. Thank you kind stranger, wherever you are.
All of the streets are running together in my mind. I remember Juanita being really bad. At one point we were using the siren in an attempt to stop traffic so an ambulance could get out of a neighborhood. It did not matter. People were too caught up making pictures to notice!
On one street we came across an elderly man sitting on top of the rubble that was once the home where he and his wife of 62 years raised their kids. He was holding a chainsaw and had blood all down his arm. He really did not know what all the fuss was about but agreed to let me clean up his wound. He certainly did not want a tetanus shot and said he would never get lock jaw because he doesn’t stop talking long enough! (Later we ran into him at triage after his wife finally talked him into it.) The lady who lived next door to their house had been killed. She was 95 and her name was Mozelle. Her son tried to protect her. He is in the hospital with a broken neck. One of the most chilling things was seeing the spray-painted markings on homes indicating if there were victims found there, and if so, how many.
Not everyone needed medical assistance, but everyone was just glad to be checked on. It was painfully obvious that some areas were getting cleared quicker than others. This had nothing to do with emergency services. Perhaps locals were afraid to go into some places. Maybe it is a good thing that people from out of town volunteer and don’t know one place from another. We went into what was described to us as one of the most crime ridden, drug infested apartment complexes in Alberta City. Those people were no different. Everyone had kind words and no one, at any time, ever complained. Remarkable. Do you know what happens when you give a sheet of stickers to two three year olds? They put stickers all over you!
One of our last stops of the day will be the most memorable for me. We stopped to help an elderly man who was carrying so many boxes of food that he almost could not see where he was going. Goodness knows how far he had walked with them. I carried them inside for him while Mike checked his BP. His wife was sitting with him on the porch. Like so many others they commented on our AU/UA pairing. Then he said the greatest thing we could do would be to pray for them and he asked if I would do that. So right there we were, on the porch, the four of us holding hands and praying. I hope I always pray for that couple. He hugged us both so tight and they both waved to us for as long as we could see each other.
As the curfew grew closer we packed up triage. At least three people had been sent on to the hospital from there. It was time to say goodbye to new friends and for everyone to go home. But I think we all wanted to stay. I did not personally cry that day. Maybe it was the adrenalin. Maybe it was the inability to quickly process that part of a town that I love now looks like a giant landfill. Maybe it was because those we met were actually smiling. That night it was hard to go to sleep though. There was a feeling of guilt that Sharon & I discussed that we felt after returning to our intact homes and lives. It was not until the next day when I saw a pair of power trucks from Missouri driving through my town that the floodgates opened. I thought about all the people I had met. Alberta City is now faces and names to me and it makes me so incredibly sad to know firsthand what they and thousands of others across our state are going through. I started writing this on Sunday night and it has taken me until early Wednesday morning to finish. I had some ask me to share my experience in Tuscaloosa but I really wanted to write it down so that I will never forget. I never want to forget.
Please visit the Toomer’s for Tuscaloosa FB page and see how you can help out in your area. Even if you are far away, efforts are being coordinated across the nation. “One person can make a difference and everyone should try”. – JFK.