Friday, April 29, 2011

Tornadoes, Football.....and Great Friends

So there it is - 298 people dead (so far) and, of those, 210 (at least) in Alabama.  All this from a natural disaster.  I've spoken to several of you and you know what our situation was...and why it's taken me so long to write again.  Two nights ago when I last posted, the storms were upon us and we were without power.  I was working from my laptop with a wireless card and the blog had, for the most part, already been written.  We had no idea of the devastation that was about to happen.  Allow me to explain - this is how it played out:  We were awakened Wednesday morning at 4:15 a.m. by the sound of blaring sirens.  Being from PA originally, it has taken me some time to get accustomed to a siren that blares when there is the possibility of a tornado.  I was clueless.  The first time I ever heard these was the day that 8 students were killed in Enterprise, AL.  I've learned to heed their warnings.  It might not mean head for the basement immediately, but for God's sake, be prepared.  Always.  The sirens we heard at that hour were the first of several during the day.  They had a brief reprieve during the midday hours, but that was because the Perfect Storm was already underway.  The sun, as I have come to realize, is a bad thing on a day like this.  The warmth only serves to help intensify the effect later.  At about 3:00, the darker clouds returned and it was 'Game On'.  Rain began to fall lightly and, as is typical with this situation, all local network channels broadcast nothing but weather.  We were warned - everyone was.  We knew it was coming - everyone did.  As we watched and listened, they showed us (a first for me) a tornado with a dual vortex.  Two actual funnels from the same cloud.  Ten minutes later, the news came that it had struck a medical center in Cullman, AL, about twenty miles north.  For the sake of discussion, here's the geography lesson - we are in a suburb of Birmingham, about 12 miles north of the city.  Stay with me.  Okay, so.....the next thing we heard was that a tornado was headed for Tuscaloosa, home of the beloved Crimson Tide.  The news then showed it.  THE 'IT'.  The Monster 'IT'.  A tornado headed for town that was a mile wide on the ground.  Let that sink in, really.  Go drive one mile.  It seems like forever when you realize that was the part of the storm on the ground...and it was  By the time we heard it had struck Tuscaloosa, they told us it would be in Birmingham in about 15 minutes.  We're 50+ miles away.  Fifteen minutes.  As I walked outside, I realized there was debris falling.  I posted pictures - a 4'x6' sheet of plywood, a 6'-8' long piece of metal siding ripped right from the house (double-wide, I presume), various pieces of insulation, papers, limbs with leaves.  The only thing missing was frogs.  I expected them.  This was completely new.  Then, as we waited, the lightning intensified, the rain was truly sideways, the sound was....well, really flippin' loud.  Sorry, this was uncharted territory for me and I was learning how to respect Mother Nature in a minute.  She was pissed, too.  We later saw the devastation by night, I saw it again by day.  The pictures, when I can download them, will be on FB.  I've never seen anything like it.  A hotel with the entire roof and one side.....gone.  Like, not there.  At all!  A large metal billboard (with catwalk) lifted straight out of the ground.  You could not imagine until you saw it.  I....was....speechless.  I am still in a bit of shock as we could not see the true damage in T-Town until today.  Amazing.  The reports are too much to go into, however when they were discussing the Tuscaloosa situation, we knew it was bad when they described people being extricated with an arm or leg missing.  'Heartbreaking' is an understatement.  It was so bad, Bryant-Denny Stadium was converted into a makeshift Emergency Management Area.  800+ people hospitalized in a town of 83,000.  Unreal.

Today, we are out of town.  We have no electricity and do not know when it will return.  It might be on now, it might be 4-5 days.  Either way, a friend made a great comment asking when the aid from other countries would arrive.  Nice.  I get it.  It ain't coming.  We will do as we always do - fix it ourselves.  After all, we are the US.  Should we expect help from elsewhere?  I'm sorry, but it's a give and take world when it comes to aid, isn't it?  We give, they take.  Sorry, perhaps being this close has made me cynical.  Then again, I see that there are Donation Pages on Facebook...and THIS is where the 'football' portion comes to light.  You see, being from PA I have always respected Penn State and Joe Paterno.  He is a living legend.  The one rivalry I always wanted to see again was the PSU-Alabama series.  Two storied programs, two storied coaches (when the Bear was coaching and now Saban), two small towns representing the best of their respective states.  When the series began anew last year, we welcomed it.  You see, I am from PA but love the Crimson Tide.  To have Joe and the boys come to T-Town for a game was the greatest.  So much so that Nick Saban publicly spoke of his respect...and made us all 'come along for that very ride'.  There best be no negative comments, boos, jeers, nothing.....when the Nittany Lions walk out of that tunnel.  Ironically, no one wanted to.  Bear Bryant and his legacy demanded more of these fans.  Apparently, it was obvious.  The ONLY thing that was said after the game was that the Crimson Tide fans were so incredibly nice.  It was a friendly rivalry.  A rivalry, yes, but neither teams' fans would act like idiots and be hateful.  Think 'Auburn' if you are a Tide fan.....and, I believe, think 'Ohio State'  if you are a PSU fan.  Honestly, we cannot wait to get to State College in the second week of the upcoming season.  We know the hospitality will be reciprocated.  Without question or hesitation.  The news from another friend today, our resident 'PSU Goddess' - Andrea - was incredible.  You see, Penn State fans that write blogs have decided to alert their readers - we will help our friends in Alabama.  We respect and admire them that much (and it IS mutual) that we want to help.  They're good people.  Ironically, knowing the people and fans from Penn State, this was almost expected that they would be that caring and thoughtful.  It's who they are and what they represent.  Pride, Integrity, Honor, Caring.  It reflects on their school, their coach, their program.  I am in awe of their willingness to make this happen so easily and readily.  I know we would do the same...though we all hope we will never have to.  Not like this.

This, of course, leads to 'Great Friends'.  I have thanked, on FB, the countless people sending thoughts and prayers during this devastation, though I will never be able to fully put into words how that felt.  Today, I am wearing a Crimson Tide t-shirt (I know, y'all find that hard to believe) and the people stopping me and asking about the state is incredible.  The reactions are always the same - they ask, first, if I am from there and then, when I acknowleedge that I am, shake their heads slowly as they lower them, then comment softly, just above a whisper - "Absolutely terrible.  I cannot imagine."  No one can.  I was there and I still cannot imagine.  I tell them all the same thing...and will relate it now - Yes, it was terrible.  We are without power, we lost all the food in our refrigerator, we were using candles rather than lights.  Yet there are 300 plus people that cannot relate the story today.  They  lost their lives doing nothing more than, well, being there.  We have the technology, we had the news reports, we had the sirens, yet it wasn't enough.  It was just too damn big.  Nothing would have helped.  That storm was going to steal lives that day whether we fought it or not.  The lives were destined to be lost as Mother Nature was relentless and unforgiving.  I've personally heard the stories and know people that lost their family.....four of them found in the woods.  Another couple that had twin daughters.  Past tense - they lost them both.  It was a bad day, not just in Alabama, but in several states.  We aren't getting help from other countries, we have to help each other.....and we will.  We always do.  It's who we are and what we do.  I love that about us.  It makes us a great country, in both good times and bad...and for that I will always be a proud American.  Thank you again and please forgive the somber tone tonight.  I wanted to tell the story and say 'Thanks' once again.....

Until next time...........

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