Shortly after the tornado that struck Tuscaloosa, AL, I asked my sister if she would consider writing a guest post about her experiences there. She is a registered nurse who previously worked with Hurricane Katrina refugees. V
Enormous, menacing killer tornado looming over Tuscaloosa, Alabama April 27, 2011
Well, it has finally started happening. I knew the day would come, but it has taken much longer than I expected. You see, I live in a tornado ravaged city. The April 27 devastation that occurred in Tuscaloosa, Alabama did not destroy my home. In fact, we had no damage. We were out of town when the storm hit but were glued to the television as we watched it begin to tear across the city. I cannot describe our feelings we had as we watched this giant storm make its way across the city. Then we had to come home. We actually came home a day early to see what we could do to help.
The large building in the background is the local hospital.
44 deaths have been attributed to the April 27 tornado. This photo is of a memorial set up across the street from the house where Carson Tinker, long snapper for the University of Alabama lived. The home was destroyed; Tinker was thrown 50 ft. and suffered injuries, but his girlfriend and their two dogs were killed during the storm.
Since the day of our return I have driven past destruction, work crews and piles of debris at least 4-5 days a week. It was such a shock to witness the piles of rubble everywhere and slabs of concrete completely bare where the tornado seemed to have vacumned up the structure. The landscape of the city is forever changed. One of the first things I noticed driving into town on our return was how far away I could view specific buildings, like the hospital. So many trees and buildings that were once obstructing the view are gone. It will be quite some time before this changes. After several trips along familiar paths that no longer seemed familiar I began to wonder “When will this seem normal again?” We all have our “normal” lives and circumstances that periodically get terribly disturbed. This is one of those circumstances. For me it is just a disturbance in my familiar surroundings and some inconvenience because some of my favorite shopping spots are gone. For many their normal has been terribly disturbed. They are coping with loss of life, property, jobs, security, and even memories. But the question is the same for them, “When will this seem normal again?” We like our “normal”!
So I have been thinking about that each time I drive by an area of devastation. And yesterday it happened. I didn’t rubberneck! Yes, a lot has been done to clear away debris, but a LOT remains. The trucks and tractors are still busy. A few businesses have been able to put a trailer on their business sites and reopen. And I guess somehow I have finally accepted that it will be years before you will be unable to see where the tornado’s path of destruction travelled. And in some way seeing things continually getting better, a little at a time, my mind has created a new “familiarity” with the scenes as I travel. I didn’t feel the usual shock when I crossed the line between previous normal and new normal! And it is good. I am convinced the new normal will be a better city. And a chance to make needed changes.
My personal philosophy about “bad stuff” is that it happens to all of us…maybe a different set of bad things but none of us get out unscathed. The difference in the outcome from the “bad stuff” is attitude. Some people come out better on what I call “the other side”, while others get stuck in the circumstances they are in. I think this is called “the victim mentality”. And so it is with the tornado victims. I have a few friends that had damage and one lost all property and cars. She has been amazing in the way she has handled this. She already had a lot to deal with in her life because her husband is ill, her mom was very ill and has died since the tornado, and her daughter is pregnant with her second child and has had many complications. Seems like that would be enough, “bad stuff” for one person to me. But then this storm came through and destroyed her home, possessions, and cars. But no injuries to her family. So she feels blessed. Yep, no despair. There have been moments of anger and sadness and these are certainly normal reactions to the very abnormal circumstances. But she has chosen to pick herself up and get on with her life. She has even commented, “Well, it was certainly the only way I would ever have a new house, all new furniture, dishes, clothes and a new car all at the same time.”
Then there are those who continue to complain that “I’m not getting enough help” and declare that they will never get out over this disaster. I do realize that for some who have lost so much and may not have good support systems for coping mechanisms it may take more time to work through the negativity. But when working with Hurricane Katrina refugees I learned that there will be some people who choose to stay in their clouds of anger and bitterness waiting on someone else to rescue them or waiting on their circumstances to magically change. Unfortunately their “new normal” will not be one of hope and change because they have chosen to remain a victim.
I think in all of life’s adversity we have a choice. We can remain a victim or we can become victorious. I hope I always remember this no matter what circumstances come my way.