Monday, June 6, 2011

Tuscaloosa Tornado, Part Four

We walked along the back parking lot to get to the front of the building again. A woman was crying hysterically in her doorway. As Derek and I approached, we asked her if she was okay. She kept crying. I looked around her. Her apartment was perfectly intact. She wasn’t bleeding. She was just standing there, crying. Derek asked her again, if she was physically hurt. His frustration was evident in his voice. She snapped out of it for a second to shake her head, no, and then returned to hysterics. We moved on.

Stepping over more debris, we returned to the courtyard by the front of the building. Some people approached us. I realized then, that everyone we came across thought we were part of an official search and rescue. No one realized we were their neighbors, just trying to help out. People asked us what to do, and told us where help was needed. It was terrifying. How could we be it? I could hear sirens. Where were the real search and rescue officials?

At this point, we were informed of a young woman who was paralyzed. I wrote about this part of the story here:

What’s not included in Chelsea’s story is that Derek and I became separated afterwards. When it came time to lift Chelsea and carry her to triage, I knew I was not as strong as the men I found to help out so I stood back to make room. These wonderful men surrounded Chelsea and carried her to safety. I followed by their side for a while, but stopped when they cleared the debris field. I felt useless walking beside them, so I went back to the courtyard to see what I could do. I knew Derek would be safe walking the street with all those men, although some little part of me was scared we wouldn’t find each other again.

I didn’t do much good without Derek. I directed some volunteers back to where Derek and I hadn’t been able to search yet, and I wandered around looking for people who needed help. I handed out some towels. That’s about when I found Hank. He was standing in the field, looking as lost as I felt. I went over and told him who I was. We realized we had seen each other in passing at UA’s rock wall. He didn’t know what to do, so I decided I was keeping him. I told him we were going to do whatever else we could then we were all headed back to the UA Rec Center for shelter, and he could come with us. Hank was okay with that.

My memory gets blurry again here. Honestly, it’s all blurry after we found the girls. Derek found me again, and I introduced him to Hank. We heard again that another storm was headed this way. It was somewhere between 6:00 and 6:30 - and a tornado was due to hit us at 7:00PM. I remember hearing that and looking around. The sky looked like it could do that to us, but I couldn’t quite imagine it. How could we have survived the first one, to have that relief, only to be killed in the second one? And I had no doubt that we would die if a second one hit. There was no place to take shelter and we were surrounded by twisted wrought iron, bricks, barbed wire from the nearby armory, and all sorts of nasty debris that would become flying shrapnel. We would all be torn to bits. I kept looking around for a place to get Derek to shelter. There was nothing except the open stairwells. It was time to evacuate.

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