On April 27th, I had a meeting at church, and came home to watch a little TV and go to bed. The weather was awful and so we hurried home. All that was on TV was the news about the weather moving through our area – weather that had moved through Alabama earlier that day. As I watched the weather people tag-team the storm progress, the sirens for the city sounded, and I herded the cats to our bathroom (and yes, it was herding and chasing cats — only took 4 tries to get them both in there). Armed with my radio tuned to the local station and still watching the red and yellow and green move across the screen, I waited to see what would happen next. I prayed, and the news announcers said “if you are in downtown, you are OK, the sirens are for….” That was the news that I at least was safe. It was an uneasy night to say the least.
In the months since, I have driven past areas that were damaged. I have seen snapped trees from the roadside, the town of Ringgold as visible from the interstate just flattened. In my head, I thought I knew what I was going to see when we came to Tuscaloosa today. I was wrong.
We thought it was a big deal when our Hobby Lobby closed because the roof caved in after flooding rains. We drove past one today (that I did not get a picture of) that was demolished. The letters from the sign gone – rubble being the word to describe what we saw around us in the part of town we drove through. But it is indiscriminate rubble. Almost across the street was an upscale shopping center that looked like new – -untouched and undamaged. War Zones look better than the little bit of what we saw today. There are bilboards for attorneys who want to expedite tornado claims (ambulance chasers turned storm chasers?) and one billboard that simply said “God Bless Tuscaloosa” with the black and white checked ribbon on it.
Tonight we were welcomed warmly by the folks at University and we went to a local restaurant for dinner. On the list of suggestions, the places that are still here are marked. The others are either gone or closed. It seems there is a strange balance of “normal” and “may never be normal again.” Our dinner at a local college hangout juxtaposed with the shells of buildings we passed on our way into town will remain a strong memory for me.
As our team is here this weekend, we are going to be asking ourselves where we saw God each day in the midst of where we are. Today I saw it when Suzanne, the woman who greeted us, said “thank you for coming to help us”, even as I was wondering if we will be able to make much of a dent in what we see.
The six of us on this trip will be blogging about it either while we are here, or when we get back, so you can see our experiences. Please keep us, and this community in your prayers in the coming days.