Thursday, May 19, 2011

April 27, 2011

This is not one of my "normal" post where I share photos of the 2 cutest little girls and the fun things they have been doing. This post, like a few more sitting in my queue awaiting to be completed, is more of therapy for me as I deal with some emotions I am experiencing. So I don't blame you if you hop on over to another blog and skip this...but it is something I have to do for myself.

Let's rewind a few weeks...3 to be exact. April 26, 2011- I had been listening to the news/weather all day long. I knew that the weather for the next day was to be historically dangerous. And for a girl who has been terrified of even a slight thunderstorm for as long as I can remember, anticipating this was putting me over the edge.

The night of Apri 26, I was up very late doing some computer work for my job (where I work on contract). The entire time I was tuned into the weather. Once I finally laid my head on my pillow I was anxious and exhausted. I slept with my iPhone by my bed so I could check the weather periodically and kept the television on the news/weather coverage all night. Nearly every hour I woke up checking on things. Finally around 4 a.m. on April 27, 2011, I fell into what seemed like a deep sleep. I never heard the sirens nor any warning on the television, but I woke startled to the most horrifying sound of wind.

I jumped out of bed, glanced out our bedroom window and I knew it was bad. I yelled for Corey to get Audrey while I snatched Addison from her bed. And within seconds we were buried under blankets and pillows in our storm room (which is also our master closet) attempting to comfort our crying children. They were terrifed since we woke them from a sound sleep :( .

I was able to look at the weather on my iPhone and saw that the storms were only beginning and the warnings were underway. Then our power went out. Fortunately, my brilliant husband had an emergency generator installed on our house when we built it, so as long as we have propane, we have power :) I thanked him MANY times over the next fews days for this!

After a while, Corey ventured out to see if things were over. All seemed calm so we looked around our yard to discover that many trees had been uprooted. Corey was scheduled to be on shift at the fire station, so he immediately got ready and headed to work. Minutes later he returned to the house and told me that he couldn't even leave the subdivision, there were TONS of trees down everywhere and just across the way an entire neighborhood was destroyed.

After learning this information, I was even more terrified because the meterologists were warning that the storms later in the day were going to be worse. Seriously?!? How little did I know!

I was upset to see Corey have to leave again, but I knew he had a duty to do. So he left us with chainsaw in his hand to try to "cut" his way to work. He did finally make it 3 hours later (he works about 15 minutes away).

The rest of the morning turned out to be gorgeous. But I took the warnings seriously and kept watch on the weather while I tried to act normal for the girls. I did make sure my laptop, portable dvd player and phone were all charged just in case. I prepared our storm room for the chance of us having to spend lots of time in there. The room was stocked with movies, snacks, drinks, toys, books, and pillows and blankets.

The day continued on as normal until around 2:3o they began with the warnings again. As I mentioned before, I am scared of bad weather so I didn't play around. If they said "warning" our tails were going to be locked in the room.

And so it began. The girls were good and we pretended it was a "sleepover party" as Audrey called it. That afternoon we spent most of our time locked in the closet. When they would expire a warning for us, I would let the girls out and run around our room and play...but we always kept close to the room just in case I needed to get them there quickly.

Then I watched the TV as they recorded a tornado storm across Cullman and was sickened by what I saw. I was in tears and couldn't believe I was witnessing it.

Soon after, the news coverage began showing a tornado speeding for Tuscaloosa. My phones were ringing off the hook and my text messaging was burning up. My family was calling every few minutes checking on us (they were aware of the morning storm and damage and knew I was home alone with the kids). During this time the girls and I are in "lock-down" and I have the television turned up as loud as possible so I can keep tabs on the weather by listening to James Spann.

My phone rings again and it is Corey in a voice full of panic that tells me to "Get in that closet and lock all 3 deadbolts, and don't come out!". He never panics so I knew that it was ugly.

At this point the girls have been confined for a couple of hours, give or take a few minutes here or there, and they are antsy, and Audrey is full of questions. I had to explain to her the importance of me being able to hear the TV and weather updates.

That is when I can remember some of the most terrifying things. James Spann and the weather crew are watching this tornado rape our town. They are describing what they see and I can hear the urgency and panic in their voices. I knew without even watching it with my eyes that it was going to be horrific. Slowly, yet quickly and painfully this act of nature demolished a huge part of our town, destroyed all things we considered normal.

Once they gave the all clear for the moment (for us) I came out to watch as that same storm destroyed other parts of the state. I was frantically texting Corey to see if he was okay. Of course by this time, the majority of our county was without power and cell signal was very poor, at best. My phones began ringing without stopping, all of our family and friends calling to check on us because they were watching as it was all blown away.

It's hard to imagine, but this was just the beginning. I was terrified for Corey and all the other rescue workers, because I knew what they were witnessing couldn't be good and other dangerous storms continued on their path. Not only were these guys out there neck deep in debris, dangerous materials, and dead bodies...but they weren't even in tune to the weather still surrounding us. Also, they were working with extremely limited resources since their EMA/Emergency Operations Center was among the buildings that were now rubble and one of the fire stations was destroyed.

Many hours later I heard from Corey that he was ok and not sure when he would get to contact us again. The remainder of the evening we spent in our storm room. The girls, playing and watching a movie, and for me, in shock, disbelief and prayer for what I could only imagine.

The next few days were a blur, almost like a bad dream that I just couldn't wake up from. Corey had been at work for over 48 hours straight when he finally got to come home for a little while to check on us, only to have to return back to that hell. I had never seen him so shook up and disturbed in all my years of knowing him. Later I would learn that all the firefighters I know working in this disaster have the same look in their eyes and emotion and pain in their hearts.

For several days following the storms, the girls and I didn't leave the house. Corey was working with the fire department for days without end and I knew that it wasn't safe to be out and about with all the destruction. Then we had to go in search of diapers for Addison. I couldn't find a pack of diapers anywhere in Tuscaloosa, as they had all been bought and donated. So in our attempt to find some diapers, I drove through town and saw first hand all the destroyed buildings and lives.

I had seen all the photos and videos that had been posted on the internet, but NONE of that prepared me for what I saw. It left me speechless and brought me to tears. And from the back seat, my now 4-year-old is asking me 100 questions about the "torn up homes" and where is her daddy and when is he coming back home. Those are answers and conversations that I didn't want to have with her, but I knew I must. There really should be a parenting manual that has all of those kinds of answers readily available for parents!

Not only was she confused and upset about all the terrifing scenes she was seeing, but she had also found out that we couldn't have her 4th birthday party as planned because the location we were to have it was in the middle of the destruction area. Although it wasn't damaged (amazingly), they had no power or water...and her daddy wouldn't be able to be there because he had to work every waking hour. Try breaking that to your 4 year old and getting her to understand!

So for weeks, everywhere you look there are huge piles of what used to be someone's livelyhood, for many, the only things they had. And there are tents and travel trailers as far as you can see- lots of them are disaster relief help, but it is still a constant reminder of all things lost and destroyed. While driving around, I wonder what will happen to these people- not only physically, but mentally and emotionally. Heck, many of them have no jobs to return to either, because all that has been stripped away. I can't imagine what those parents are experiencing knowing that they can't provide for their children right now.

With Corey gone for so many long hours and our schedule and so many other things distrubed, the girls became extremely needy, insecure, and easily upset. Even in spite of my attempts to keep things as "normal" as I possibly could. That was heartbreaking to me as well.

I took this tragedy as an opportunity to teach them the importance of helping those in need. The church where Audrey attends preschool was holding a school supplies drive for all the students/teachers that would be moving to different schools because the tornado destroyed theirs. I let Audrey pick out the supplies and help me deliver them. While we were doing this she, once again, was asking all of her "why" questions and was concerned about what was going to happen to all these people that had all their stuff blown away. That night at supper, the girls and I sat down to eat our spaghetti. After saying the prayer, Audrey looked up at me and asked- " Mommy, do all those people who got their stuff blown away have something to eat? 'Cause if not, we need to give them our spaghetti". It was all I could do not to break down and cry, but I did pause to thank the Lord that my child had a tender, loving heart.

Still now, 3 weeks after that tragic day, everywhere you look is destruction and it is quite depressing- at least it is for me. No more of the "normal", no more going to all the stores and restaurants that we frequented. But it gives me hope to see all the loving and willing volunteers all over our city helping out and it reminds me that there are still good people in this world. And although I often feel guilty because I have a warm shower or a good meal in my home, I thank the Lord for all those blessings- big and small- because it could've easily been us.

So, now that I have poured out my soul- anxiety, fears, and emotions- I feel better. It was very theraputic. If you made it all the way to this part- I thank you for hanging in there and allowing me to open up about this. Hopefully, my next post will be a little happier. Sorry for not including photos. I just can't stand to capture such torment on camera. I have enough images in my mind and having to see it daily. I didn't want it all over my blog, too.


Nancy said...

I knew it was bad and horrid and tragic, but reading this, tonight, brings it home clearer. I shall pray once more for those affected by this tragedy that struck our beloved state. Kudos to those, like Corey, that have given of their time and efforts. Yay that you planned to have a storm shelter.

Jenny said...

You wrote this beautifully! Thank you for sharing it with us!