Our little community was hit by an EF-4 tornado and as you can see it destroyed much our our great city. Thirteen people died on this date four years ago. A total of 64 tornados were recorded that day with 250 recorded deaths for the state of Alabama.
My son and I woke up to the news that morning of a tornado that hit Pell City, a city east of us. It did a lot of damage including my sister in law’s house. My son and I was getting ready to leave out on a trip with the high school band heading to Orlando, Florida leaving behind my wife and two young twin daughters. Little did I know that I would later on fear that they had perished in the storm that would hit around 4 pm later that evening.
We were on a bus near Tallahassee Florida when we started getting messages that a EF-5 tornado had hit Tuscaloosa and was heading toward Pleasant Grove, my hometown. We all watched in fear as we saw the tornado inch closer and closer to our city. I had called my wife and told her to take cover because it was on it’s way. The radar program I had installed on my computer showed the path leading dead center of Pleasant Grove. I hung up the phone not knowing if I would ever see my wife and girls again.
I watched in horror as the storm reports started coming in on the tv on the bus. Reports also started coming in from loved ones on the bus. Friends, neighbors and loved ones had died and their homes destroyed. Reports of fires and heavy damage all over our city were flowing freely throughout the bus but I could not get through to my wife. I tried her cell phone, the house phone and I even called the neighbors phone. It wouldn’t even ring. All circuits were busy. I couldn’t text my wife because she didn’t want to spend the money on text messaging. I cursed her for that. After about 15 minutes of not knowing I started getting that sinking feeling that I had indeed spoke to my wife and kids for the last time and I would not see them alive again. People all over the bus were crying because of the news of their loved ones either being hurt or loss of life. The lady behind me knew I was concerned and started trying to calm me down. I went to my son who had also been trying to contact his mother and I could tell he had been crying too. We held each other in our arms for a few minutes. Other people started trying to call our numbers but were having the same luck. Finally, after what seemed a lifetime, I finally was able to get the phone to ring. I can’t remember just how many times the phone rung but I remember thinking to myself that even if the phone rang it didn’t mean that she was still alive. I also remember hearing the most beautiful sound that I could ever hear at that time, the sound of my wife answer the phone.
The tornado had missed the house by about five hundred yards. She had went outside and looked around and saw no damage, just a few limbs down and a lot of insulation all over the yard. She wouldn’t know until the next day just how close we were to losing everything we had. At that time she didn’t know just how close the tornado came and just how much damage was done to our city. We were truly blessed.
The buses were instructed to stop at the next rest area and the parents and band leaders met to decide what we needed to do. Several of the parents wanted to go home and check on their homes. The decision was made to continue on to Orlando and let those parents that wanted to, make arrangement to rent a car and let them go on home. All the kids were made to stay on the bus and head to Orlando. We had some opposition from the kids but the kids needed to stay out of the way of the cleanup. Later on I think the kids realized that we just wanted what was best for them. It all worked out for the best.
This happened on a Wednesday and we stayed in Orlando until the following Sunday. The ride home was a somber one. The realization had set in and we were about to find out first hand what type of damage was done to our families.
Our city is still trying to rebuild from the 2011 tornado. Many people packed up and left never to return. The band went from nearly 200 students to 80 in less than a year. The same effects were felt in the high school. We’re slowly getting back to where we were but it’s going to take some time.
“Life Goes On!”