April 27, 2012 Vol. 118, Issue 126
Harder than we thought April 27 changed the face of Tuscaloosa, but it also changed us By Jonathan Reed Managing Editor firstname.lastname@example.org When tornadoes ripped through Dallas, Texas, on April 3, Darlene Harrison and her husband David knew they needed to find shelter. Their home didn’t have a basement, so they raced with their dog through the wind, rain and hail to a neighbor’s house. Darlene Harrison could only think of one thing as they bolted for safety: This is what Ashley must have gone through. Ashley Harrison, their only daughter, was killed on
April 27, 2011, when an EF4 tornado ripped through Tuscaloosa. Ashley had been at the apartment of her boyfriend, Crimson Tide football player Carson Tinker, when the tornado flattened the building. Both of them were thrown into a field. Tinker survived and was quickly taken to DCH Regional Medical Center. An hour after the storm hit, Ashley Harrison’s body was found. A neighbor’s German shepherd ran into the field of debris. The dog, named Saban, jumped in and out of the rubble, looking for the 23-year-old who always played with him. He finally crawled into a pile of debris and stayed there, even as his owner called for him. When the neighbor finally found Saban, the German shepherd
was curled up next to Ashley’s body. She lay unidentified in the morgue until early the next morning, after her parents had arrived from Dallas. In the year since then, the Harrisons have stayed in close contact with Ashley’s friends and the parents of other students who were killed in the storm. Those relationships, as well as the support of friends and family, have helped the Harrisons cope with the hole the storm ripped in their hearts, Darlene Harrison said. “That hole is so big that we say those people sit around the edge of the hole and keep us from falling in,” she said. CONTINUED ON PAGE 2
Friday, April 27, 2012
Emotional toll of storm long lasting CONTINUED FROM PAGE 1 The Harrisons were not alone in their shock and grief. Ashley was one of 53 people killed when the storm ripped through Tuscaloosa. Six UA students, as well as two from Shelton State Community College and one from Stillman College, would never get a chance to graduate. The storm leveled homes and businesses with no regard for race, class or creed. It cut a swath half a mile wide and six miles long through Tuscaloosa. Even a year later, there are few places along the tornado’s path where the land does not look much the way it did the morning of April 28. At 15th Street and McFarland Boulevard, the CVS Pharmacy that once served as a quick convenience store for students and residents still stands, albeit empty and boarded up. In Holt, homes are still crumbling, their owners waiting for the insurance money needed to rebuild. For a month, Rosedale resident Michael Moore continued to sit on his porch, even though much of the housing project had long been swept away by the wind. Residents of the Forest Lake neighborhood still ask themselves whether stay in the devastated community. In Alberta, many stretches of land are still empty fields where apartment buildings and businesses once sprawled. The congregation of College Hill Baptist Church plans a rebuilding effort for their church on University Boulevard. There are a few places amid the desolation where the first signs of Tuscaloosa’s future can be seen. A week ago, Krispy Kreme broke ground at its former site on McFarland Boulevard, hoping to turn the “Hot Now” sign on again by the fall. Of the 116 businesses destroyed in Tuscaloosa, only 20 have reopened or have permits to reopen in their same locations, according to the Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama. Another 44 businesses are planning to move elsewhere in the area or already have. Some, like Full Moon BBQ, will open their doors soon in other locations. Others, like Hobby Lobby, already have. While the physical recovery of Tuscaloosa continues at a varied pace across the city, the people affected by the storm know they will never be the same.
‘Back to our roots’ Matt Calderone was just an intern at Tuscaloosa City Hall, but his day started at 5 a.m. on April 28. City Clerk Tracy Croom had called him into the office, handed him a computer and told him to go to St. Matthias Church on Skyland Boulevard. The church was packed with volunteers looking to help in the massive cleanup and recovery effort that could begin at first light. A man stood up on the church’s stage and asked where the guy from the mayor’s office was. “I’m looking around thinking, ‘Where is that guy? He has to be here somewhere,’” Calderone said. “Then I realized I was that guy.” Calderone’s task, though he didn’t know it when he left City Hall, was to organize volunteers and coordinate the six points of distribution for food, water and other essentials Mayor Walt Maddox had set up in the affected areas. Calderone, who was a UA sophomore at the time and had only recently started his internship, coordinated a crowd of volunteers that was so large there wasn’t enough work
NEWS for all of them. For the next few days, Calderone would serve as the city’s lead official for coordinating the volunteer effort. He carried two phones and a walkie talkie, answering calls at every hour of the day and night. “Everyone wanted to help and people didn’t know how,” he said. “I was in a position to help.” When the winds died down, UA students were some of the first on the scene. Students banded together to form UA Greek Relief, which raised more than $200,000 and cooked thousands of meals for residents and volunteers in the days after the tornado. Though they often earn reputations as bad neighbors because they’re only temporary residents, students in the tornado’s path were at times the first on the scene to help their fellow residents. In the last year, the campus has played a key role in lifting the city to its feet, with students building homes with Habitat for Humanity and clearing debris through the SGA’s Sunday Service initiative. Now the president of the UA Student Government Association, Calderone continues to see the way Tuscaloosa is coming together after the disaster. He has worked with everyone from Habitat for Humanity and other nonprofits to NBA star Dwight Howard in helping pick up the city piece by piece. Calderone said the most important thing, though, is not picking up. It’s how you rebuild. “When something like that happens, you have to deal with the issue, but you have to look to the future,” he said. Tuscaloosa Forward, which was originally presented to citizens in July, is the city’s proposed plan to rebuild the areas destroyed by the storm in a different and more modern way. The plan includes a pedestrian path with green space and village centers in each neighborhood affected by the storm. On May 15, City Council will vote to approve or reject the residential zoning part of the plan. Calderone said the most important aspect of the city’s long-term recovery, though, is something he saw a lot of in the days after the storm – the city’s spirit when faced with adversity. “It’s things like this that happen to a community that bring us back to our roots and remind us of what our purpose is,” he said.
‘Nothing to be taken lightly’ Before April 27, Bragan Jackson didn’t take the sirens seriously. Coming from south Alabama, Jackson was used to hurricanes and the four days’ warning they come with. In April, he only had about a minute of warning. Jackson and his roommates were at their home in Cedar Crest when the storm came through. They weren’t watching the weather – Jackson was watching a movie, one roommate was playing video games and another was asleep. A friend sent one of his roommates a text message, saying the tornado was coming toward them. They switched on the news and saw it heading right for their neighborhood. All three of them threw on their shoes and got under a mattress. When the storm hit, their house was not damaged as much as their neighbors’ homes. The storm broke their windows, the air pressure in the house dropped and the wind rushed through the building with the sound of a jet engine, he said, but the walls stayed and only limbs and branches – not whole trees – hit the roof. Once it was over, they got out from under the mattress and walked around Cedar Crest.
April 26, 2012
April 28, 2011
Photo Illustration | Drew Hoover
In this photo illustration of an area of Forest Lake, the debris caused by the April 27 tornado is pictured on the left while the current state of the lot is pictured on the right. “We just walked around in disbelief,” he said. “You couldn’t walk down the street without walking over trees and power lines.” Gas leaks and other safety hazards kept Jackson, who graduated from the University in December, from staying in his house after the storm, so he stayed at a friend’s house in Northport. When he returned to Cedar Crest a few days later, he said about 30 of his friends were standing in his front yard, helping clean up. “That was one thing that changed immediately,” he said. “It brought us all together.” Though Jackson is in Mobile now and seldom has to deal with a tornado warning, he said he learned one important lesson that day. He’ll never again think a tornado isn’t a big deal. “Before this, I’d always joked that tornadoes didn’t exist,” he said. “They’re certainly nothing to be taken lightly anymore.” A year later, the University, the city of Tuscaloosa and students are constantly working to make sure a tornado is never taken lightly. The University implemented a new storm warning system this year that includes calling students in the event of an emergency. At noon on the first Wednesday of every month, students receive a test call. On Thursday, April 19, students saw the system in practice for something completely unrelated – when shots were fired on the Strip. Students have also shown an increased interest in keeping an eye on the weather. When tornadoes moved through West Alabama the night of Jan. 22, many students still had their TVs and computers tuned to James Spann’s live broadcast of storm coverage, discussing their anxiety, sleeplessness and memories on Twitter and Facebook. Those students knew what it was like to be caught off guard. They didn’t want it to happen again.
‘We live through her legacy’ In Dallas, Darlene Harrison doesn’t need to be reminded about the importance of storm protection. As a realtor, she knows about houses and what it takes to be safe from a tornado. She knows it was an unsafe building that led to Ashley’s death. “The house is what killed her,” she said. “All the houses
A YEAR OF LOSS AND RECOVERY
April 27, 2011
June 1, 2011
July 23, 2011
August 5, 2011
August 28, 2011
February 6, 2012
April 20, 2012
April 21, 2012 around her were still standing but that house.” Part of her fight to keep Ashley’s legacy alive is to make sure her clients know just how safe they need to be. “You realize that you help out other people and help them know where they’re safest,” she said. She said she and her husband also stay in close touch with Ashley’s friends, including keeping tabs on the weather in Tuscaloosa in case another dangerous storm approaches. The Harrisons both have apps
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on their phones and get warnings when bad weather comes near Dallas or Tuscaloosa. They didn’t have those apps in April, when Ashley called each time there was a tornado warning and her father would talk her through the weather conditions. “I wish we could have a doover because we’re so much more prepared now,” Darlene Harrison said. In the last year, the Harrisons have created scholarships and funds in Ashley’s name as a way to help others and find some good in the bad. They even creat-
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Shortly after 5 p.m., an EF4 tornado rips through Tuscaloosa, killing 53 people and destroying or damaging roughly 12 percent of the city. The City of Tuscaloosa holds a candlelight vigil for tornado victims. Mayor Walt Maddox and leaders praised residents’ efforts to recover. Mayor Maddox and the city unveil the first draft of the Tuscaloosa Forward plan, which would shape the rebuilding of areas destroyed by the storm. The University of Alabama holds a memorial service for the six students killed in the storm. The next day, all six students were awarded posthumous degrees. Students and community members gathered for the University’s Day of Remembrance. Nick Saban encouraged students to make a positive difference. Hobby Lobby reopens at a new location in Northport. The store was one of the most noticeable buildings destroyed by the storm. Krispy Kreme breaks ground at its location on McFarland Boulevard. The doughnut shop is slated to reopen in the same location this fall. More than 1,200 people volunteer during the UA Day of Service across Tuscaloosa. Volunteers cleared debris in Rosedale, Forest Lake and Alberta.
ed a memorial pet fund in honor of Ashley’s dog and Tinker’s dog, who were both killed in the storm. The fund recently helped a former Marine and his wife in Dallas whose dog was hit by a car. Giving back is how the Harrisons cope with the loss they suffered a year ago, how they fill the void left when the tornado took their only daughter. “You don’t think you’ll outlive your children,” Darlene Harrison said. “Now, we live through her legacy.” free up to three issues. Any other papers are $1.00. The subscription rate for The Crimson White is $125 per year. Checks should be made payable to The University of Alabama and sent to: The Crimson White Subscription Department, P.O. Box 2389, Tuscaloosa, AL 35403-2389. The Crimson White is entered as periodical postage at Tuscaloosa, AL 35401. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to The Crimson White, P.O. Box 2389, Tuscaloosa, AL 35403-2389. All material contained herein, except advertising or where indicated otherwise, is Copyright © 2012 by The Crimson White and protected under the “Work Made for Hire” and “Periodical Publication” categories of the U.S. copyright laws. Material herein may not be reprinted without the expressed, written permission of The Crimson White.
The Crimson White
Friday, April 27, 2012
Community Spotlight // Holt
Brown’s Greenhouses makes a comeback By Katherine Martin | Assistant News Editor
It never crossed Margaret Brown’s mind not to reopen the greenhouses she and her husband Riley Brown had owned and operated for 28 years. Along with the Brown’s home in Cherrywood Circle in Holt, the tornado destroyed 15 of the 16 structures at Brown’s Greenhouses on Crescent Ridge Road. “We had to come back because we love it,” Brown said. “This is our life. This is what we’ve done for 28 years. You get to know your customers, and everywhere we went people wanted to know when we were coming back. So, we just decided that this is what we wanted to do – rebuild and start over.” In addition to Greenhouse 1, which was rebuilt by volunteer contractors, the Brown’s now have 10 structures back up and blooming with the same variety of flowers and ferns their customers remember. Anita Moring, a loyal customer for about eight years, drives to Holt from her home in Fayette to buy plants for her garden. The atmosphere and friendliness,
Moring said, makes Brown’s Greenhouses special. Moring said she came to visit the Greenhouses about five months after the storm, but the business hadn’t reopened. It took about six months of working seven days a week for Brown’s Greenhouses to reopen their gates, Brown said. “It’s great that they’ve made a comeback,” Moring said. “They worked very hard to get here. This kind of business is hard work.” The hardest part of rebuilding, Brown said, was that they were not as young as they used to be. “We’re a lot older,” Brown said. “It’s kind of hard to start over. You just have to though, for your life. You don’t really have a choice to start over. It’s something you want to do to make yourself feel better, and your customers.” The same customers, and hundreds more, who flocked to Brown’s Greenhouses before the storm to fill the trunks of their cars with flats of pansies, impatiens and geraniums, continue to visit on clear days. “We have 10 greenhouses,”
Brown said. “We could have used 30 this year. It has been really overwhelming [for] the customers. We’ve had so many more. People have been trying to help us and patronize us and get us back going. They’re not going to let us go out of business.” Mickey Pearson, Brown’s brother, has been helping at the greenhouses on and off for more than 10 years and was pulling out of the driveway when the storm hit. Pearson also said he had no doubt the Brown’s would reopen their beloved business. “This place is their life,” he said. “They’ve lost their son; they almost lost their daughter in a car wreck. This is their life right here.” Pearson said he was always ready to help out when his sister and brother-in-law needed his help. “[I was] just giving them back what they’ve done all their lives – what they love to do,” he said. “They both love people and their customers, and their customers love them. They’ve worked hard all of their lives to keep this place.” Though it hasn’t been an
CW | Bryce Denton
Top: Margaret Brown views piles of remaining debris at Brown’s Greenhouses on April 23, 2012. She says the hardest part of rebuilding is that she and her husband Riley are getting older, making it difficult to start over. Above: Margaret Brown displays several photos of Brown’s Greenhouses right after the tornado. easy road to recovery, Brown said, they are thankful to be alive and able to come back. “It’s been really sad because
you work your whole life and you don’t expect to lose everything in a few seconds,” Brown said. “You just try not to think
about it a lot because things are just things. We didn’t lose our lives; we’re just blessed to be here.”
A community left behind turns to an old idea By Jasmine Cannon Senior staff reporter email@example.com A parade of 50 people marched through Holt last month in favor of making the community something it’s never been before: a city. Residents and supporters held up signs and chanted, “What do we want? Holt incorporated! When do we want it? Right now!” The town has about 4,000 residents and was one of the areas hit hardest by the tornado one year ago. Holt sits no more than two miles away from the Tuscaloosa city limits, though it is often ignored at city council meetings. A voice is what Holt is looking for, and becoming a city is how they can have their voices heard. Discussions began last July, when FEMA officials spoke with residents. Supporters and residents of Holt formed a group called Holt Forging Ahead. Each time they do work, they are called Holt in Action. The group has worked with Jerry Tingle, a Republican candidate for the Tuscaloosa County Commission. Tingle has posted signs around the area saying “Make Holt a City.” He looks to fill a seat vacated by former commissioner Gary Youngblood. Tingle said one of the main reasons Holt should move toward becoming a city is to have more financial assistance
opportunities. “Holt doesn’t have a voice right now,” he said. “The only way to get things done is becoming a city. A positive [of becoming a city] would be Holt would fall in the category to apply for grants. It can’t do that right now.” If Holt were to become a city, it would be eligible for more grants from entities such as FEMA that would assist with rebuilding and other projects. Some residents disagree with the change, mostly out of fear that the change would increase taxes. However, Holt in Action said it is unknown if taxes would increase or not. Cindy Dixon, a teacher at Holt High School, said the benefits of becoming a city include the financial possibilities that derive from present taxes. Holt residents currently pay taxes on cell phones and landline telephones. The taxes associated with these go to Tuscaloosa, not Holt specifically. This also goes for property taxes, business license fees and other fees. “All of that money would be based on the population of the residents of Holt, and it would stay in Holt for Holt to use,” Dixon said. Dixon has gotten one of her former students, UA freshman Alvin Lockett, involved with the initiative as well. “Even if we had to pay more taxes, it would still be great for Holt to become a city simply
because many of the resources would come back towards Holt itself that would benefit us,” Lockett, a lifelong Holt resident, said. “Having a voice is the main thing. Many of the taxes we do pay don’t really come back to benefit us. Our school and different things like that are in need of some type of funds.” Neither Dixon nor Lockett suffered property damage in the tornado, but they said they still feel the sadness and emotions of such a tragedy and loss. Some residents are open to the idea of Holt becoming a city because of the possible opportunities that can be afforded to everyone. “I say ‘Yes’ for making the town a city if it means more funding for the community in areas like education,” said LaToya Jones, a 14-year resident. “Perks like surveys [to express our opinions] and county officials coming into town to speak with us would be helpful, too.” Many areas in the community look the same way they did a year ago. Houses are still vacated and heavily damaged without repair. Uprooted trees lie in open spaces in the community as if the tornado traveled through the town yesterday. “I absolutely deplore that [Holt] is being left in the state that it’s in,” Dixon said. “One of the things that we have asked
for is please light the area up. It’s distressing and depressing for the residents to live in such darkness.” Former residents are trying to find their way back to the place they call home. Carol Roddy, leasing agent at C.W. Development, has had an office in Holt for the past four years. “People are wanting to move back from Northport back this way,” Roddy said. “People are fighting over places. Holt as a city makes it easier and is more convenient. I think it’s a wonderful idea, and I feel like eventually it will be a city.” Some places are being rebuilt with the help of Project TeamUp and Habitat for Humanity and some residents who have gotten insurance assistance to help rebuild. A park is a priority in the Holt rebuilding plan. “Another thing as part of our long term disaster relief is that we want to put in a park,” Dixon said. “We would have the ability to that [as a city]. There’s a push to create a historic park district.” Tingle said making Holt a city begins with deciding which parts of the community would be zoned into the city. Next, residents would have to start a petition and enough of the population would have to sign it in order to have a strong case before the probate judge. There would then be a vote, and the probate judge would the decision to respect the vote or turn it over.
CW | Shannon Auvil
Jerry Tingle, a candidate for county comissioner, is one of many residents campaigning to make Holt separate from Tuscaloosa and incorporate as its own city. “[Officials] have to be careful because within two years you’re going to be responsible for maintaining the area and you need income to do that,” Tingle said. “Residents would like to see Holt become a city because they know they don’t have a voice right now. They’ve suffered a great deal of devastation from the storms and had little impact on what’s being planned for Holt.” Holt attempted to become a city during the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, Tingle said. The ruling was passed in the Alabama Supreme Court, but progress stopped and did not go forward. Tingle said talks about making Holt a city took root again after the tornado. These plans are not likely to move forward until after the election in November. Residents say it will be helpful if officials came into the town to express their knowledge on issues and plans involving
Holt. “The people who might be a little concerned they just need to come ask questions, and we’ll do our best to supply those answers,” Dixon said. “But they’ll have a voice. If more people say no, we don’t want, then so be it. But, at least they would have had a chance of what they wanted.” Lockett stressed the importance of the community’s involvement in the plans. “It’s just so many types of positives that could benefit the whole community from us becoming a city that it just outweighs not being able to become a city,” Lockett said. “The word needs to get out so that people will know. I think more people coming to the meetings and more people getting to know about Holt becoming a city will answer so many questions that aren’t answered right now.”
Friday, April 27, 2012
The Crimson White
Community Spotlight // Alberta
Area on slow road to recovery By Stephen N. Dethrage | Assistant News Editor
A year after the storm damaged or destroyed more than half of Tuscaloosa’s Alberta neighborhood, much of the area is still ruined, cleared, or vacant. The lack of visible progress has left many questioning the recovery effort in Alberta and the future of the district as the rebuilding process continues. Mayor Walt Maddox and the district’s councilman Kip Tyner attributed those issues to many factors.
CW | John Michael Simpson
Alberta Baptist Church has been torn down now and rescontruction is soon to begin. “The biggest problem that Alberta faces is the widespread damage,” Maddox said. “Around 60 percent of the structures in Alberta were impacted.” Progress has also been slowed by the city’s process of long-term planning, but for that, Maddox is not sorry. “In Alberta, [the recovery process] tangibly looks like debris removal, and it looks like long-term planning, which is essential,” Maddox said. “What we were doing on April 26 was not helping Alberta reach its full potential, so completing the comprehensive plans in record time and getting the debris removed were pretty significant accomplishments in year one. “In year two, our goal is going to be trying to create an affordable housing market and make commercial opportunities, as well as beginning to rebuild the
city infrastructure, the fire station, police precinct and the new Alberta Elementary.” To those questioning the city’s dedication to Alberta, the mayor pointed to Tuscaloosa’s Generational Master Plan, the product of a year of planning the recovery process, which the council will vote to adopt in May. “In our generational plan, our largest investment of city funds will be in the Alberta area,” Maddox said. “That’s where we think we can leverage it to best effect. Tyner agreed that everyone concerned would want to see Alberta rebuild faster, but also defended the city’s approach of planning each step before making decisions that disadvantage Alberta. “It’s hard to believe that it’s already been a year, it’s still hard to look at it all and think back to
that day,” Tyner said. “Everyone would have liked to be a little further along, but we’ve been careful to do things right, and sometimes to do things right it takes a little time.” There’s been progress, Tyner said, but seeing one house back on an otherwise road is not enough to satisfy him. “One of my biggest goals is to rebuild neighborhoods. I’m happy for everyone in a home now, but I don’t want to see a house built one at a time, a house here, a house there,” Tyner said. “I really would like to see neighborhoods. It makes the community closer, you feel more ownership of your community through neighborhood developments and that’s certainly one of my main goals.” The planning will pay off soon, both officials said, and those looking at Alberta will be able to
see visible progress in the next year. “The public hearings are in May for plans for the school, the Public Service Center is already in the architect’s hands, the Jaycee Park is moving into phase one,” Tyner said. “I really anticipate by the fall, maybe even early summer, we’ll begin to see a lot accomplished, I hope for multiple rebuilds.” Maddox and Tyner said they wanted a better district than the one the tornado devastated. They hope to see higher housing standards and new communities that are conducive to young professionals and married couples. The mayor admitted, though, that communication with citizens, especially about the Tuscaloosa Forward Plan, could have been handled better in the last year. “There are things that, in ret-
rospect, we probably would have approached differently; not in terms of debris removal or planning but how we presented and communicated it.” Even so, the city leaders said the next year would see Alberta moving faster towards recovery, and to a new standard of living. “I couldn’t be more optimistic about the area,” Tyner said. John Little, who owns Yourway Furniture in Alberta, agreed that the city’s planning was necessary for the beautification of the area and the betterment of the city. “All up and down University Boulevard until you get to the hospital, it’s been pretty well wiped out, and I think we need to make that area a scenery, something to really look at and be proud of,” Little said. “I think that’s what the city’s trying to do. It’s the direct route to the
University of Alabama, which is a growing and viable part of Tuscaloosa, and it’s got to look better than it did before the storm.” Little has operated in Alberta for 23 years and his store suffered more than $1 million in damages after the tornado. Even so, he has rebuilt in Alberta and is optimistic for his future, and the future of the area. “The city’s regulations are not trying to run people off, they’re trying to encourage them to simply beautify the area,” Little said. “We need to have setbacks and regulations and rules that will eventually make this city better because we’re going to see a different Tuscaloosa, a different atmosphere than we’ve seen in our past. The city is just trying to make this area look different than it did before the storm, and that’s not such a bad thing.”
Habitat builds house for Alberta man By Stephen N. Dethrage Assistant News Editor firstname.lastname@example.org Bernard Jefferson earns his money feeding the residents of a nursing and rehabilitation home in Northport, but since April of last year, he has lived without someone to feed him. That month, an EF4 tornado took the lives of his wife Jacqueline and their two grandchildren Cedria and Keyshawn. For Jefferson, nothing has been the same since that day, but without his wife to keep him well-fed, he said having to make his own meals has been the hardest change to adjust to. “My wife loved to cook, and I didn’t have to worry about making anything to eat,” Jefferson said. “I have to cook for myself now. I have to do everything for myself now.” Standing over a stove as he boils plain white rice and cooks whatever meat is around may never seem normal to Jefferson, but he is proud to have that stove in a new house that Habitat for Humanity built for him and said his dietary situation has been worse, especially immediately after the tornado displaced him. “After the storm, I didn’t eat for two or three weeks,” Jefferson said. “Not real food, anyway. I just had to have a bag of potato chips and keep going.” Jefferson moved into his new home on 7th Street East on March 23. It sits across the road from the property on which his last home was destroyed, and other than four other small, rebuilt homes, the street is still an empty shell of what was before. The new location, the new house, the cooking, the quiet – they are all drastically different from the life he knew and lost. “If you go through that kind of loss, your life is going to change forever,” Jefferson said. “I know mine has.” He also battles the newfound fear of dangerous weather he shares with many tornado survivors. “We didn’t think anything of
the storm. We’d always heard about severe weather out here, and we really didn’t take it that seriously,” Jefferson said. “It scares me now, everything really scares me. I worry I’ll lose it all again, and I don’t need to go through all that.” In spite of all the loss he’s seen, Jefferson fights every day to be happy, positive or at least satisfied. “I just take it one day at a time, try to think positive things, help the people who helped me and try to help others, also,” he said. “I look at what I went through, and I look at arguing with someone and it’s just like going through another storm, so I just walk away from anything negative. I’m not going through another storm.” Jefferson fears those mental storms in the same way he now fears tornadoes. Losing his positivity could send him into a depression and losing his temper could send him to prison. Jefferson spent a year and a half there already and will do anything to avoid being incarcerated again. “Some days I have good days, and some days I have bad days,” Jefferson said. “But if someone says something negative to me I just say, ‘You’re not going to steal my joy, you’re not going to take my smile.’” That phrase has become a mantra for Jefferson. His joy, what little is left, is what allows him to keep going on a daily basis. “It’s hard to deal with it, and then sometimes, it’s not because I figure it happened for a reason, everything does,” he said. “I guess all this, it’s for me to try to learn to do better for myself. A lot of people don’t realize when they lose their loved ones; you’ve got to know how to do things for yourself. That’s basically what I’ve been trying to do.” Jefferson is cooking and cleaning and working for himself and is fiercely proud of the independence he has been able to develop. He is not, however, above accepting help. The West Alabama Food Bank delivers
food to his new address and Habitat for Humanity gave him the roof over his head. Jared Patterson, the volunteer and partnership director for Habitat for Humanity Tuscaloosa, said after about a month of planning and arranging teams of volunteers, the construction of Jefferson’s new home – in what they called a blitz build – took only 12 days. “A blitz build is fun, quick and it works very effectively,” Patterson said. “But it takes a lot of time and a lot effort and everything has to fall into place very flawlessly.” Even so, the nonprofit has placed eight families into new homes in the last year. Everyone wishes for faster progress after a disaster, Patterson said, but all told, he’s proud of the work Habitat for Humanity has been able to do. “It’s been a fantastic year,” Patterson said. “Everything that’s been accomplished has been nothing short of phenomenal. I don’t think, in the first year after the tornado, that it could have gone any better.” Jefferson said moving into a new home of his own is one of the only good things that has happened to him since the storm. Patterson said he and the rest of the Habitat for Humanity staff were proud to contribute to that rare, happy moment in his new life. “Everyone has their own story and Mr. Jefferson obviously suffered so much and dealt with so much tragedy, it broke my heart. One look at his face at the dedication [of Jefferson’s new home] and I started tearing up, “ Patterson said. “Knowing that we were able to build him a house that overlooks his previous home—where he can feel close to his family—that really means a lot to me.” It means a lot to Jefferson, too, who said he wanted to keep living in Alberta, even after the tragedy of losing his family, living so close to their last home allowed him to still feel close to them. “I lost my wife, but we lived
Top: CW | John Michael Simpson Bottom: Courtesy of Habitat for Humanity
Top: Alberta Baptist Church, which was heavily damaged by the tornado, is torn down on April 24. Middle: Habitat for Humanity volunteers lay a foundation for Bernard Jefferson’s house during a Blitz Build. Bottom Left: Habitat volunteers put the finishing touches on the exterior of Jefferson’s Alberta home. Bottom Right: Volunteers gather outside Jefferson’s new home. across the street, and I thought, if I live here, I’m still with my wife,” Jefferson said. “A lot of people don’t understand that, but that’s just the way I feel. It’s where my memories are. This is where I’ll be staying; just praying I won’t have to move again, not for that reason, anyway.” Jefferson described Jacqueline as compassionate, even to strangers and as someone who never questioned the motives of those who said they were in need, happily giving anything she could spare to anyone who asked for it. On the day of the tornado, the couple was less than a month away from their 10-year anniversary. “If I could make one thing happen, I’d bring my wife back. That would be the only thing
I’d want,” Jefferson said. “Still, I think it hurt me more for my grandkids, though, because they were so young. They’d just started their lives.” Cedria, his granddaughter, was a 9-year-old straight-A student. Keyshawn, her brother, was only five and Jefferson said he stayed out of trouble and his sister was there to tell on him if he ever stepped out of line. All Keyshawn needed was his prized possession, his bicycle. “I never had any problems with him,” Jefferson said. “All you had to do was give him his bike and he’d be up and down the street all day long. He never harassed anyone.” Less than a week after the storm, the children’s mother
mother succumbed to a longterm sickness and Jefferson, with his wife’s loved ones, buried four of his family members on the same day. In the face of such loss and sorrow, many survivors of the storm relocated, leaving Alberta to try to build another life. Jefferson, though, is here to stay. He said he owes that much to Jacqueline who, even during his time in prison, never abandoned him. “She helped me out the whole time and a lot of people are not like that. I don’t care if they’re married or not,” he said. “That’s why no matter what kind of day it is I always try to go visit her, and that’s why I’m staying here. She never left me, I ain’t leaving her.”
The Crimson White
Friday, April 27, 2012
With new members, church plans to rebuild By Ashanka Kumari Staff Reporter email@example.com For Teresa Croom, College Hill Baptist Church was the one thing she had left of her grandfather. When the UA senior first stepped into the church after the storm, everything was in disarray. The roof was gone and furniture lay scattered on the floors. Everything appeared to be lost until she walked into the Rev. Kelvin Croom’s office. The office that formerly belonged to her late grandfather was exactly as she had left it the day before the tornado. “My father’s red tie was still hanging on the knob of a drawer in his office and there was only one picture on the floor,” Teresa Croom said. “It was an awkward feeling because when I walked into the church, everything was gone, but when I walked into that office, it was untouched.” Although most of the church was destroyed, some things were left completely unharmed, the most surprising of which was the sanctuary, she said. “We had a little desk that our assistant pastor used for Bible study, and it was standing up straight, and I thought that it was like the power of God because you could tell that everything in the sanctuary was left untouched,” she said. For church member Collin Lee Taylor, the church was a beacon of hope amid the destruction. “Most of the apartments in my complex were destroyed but I could still see the church,” Taylor said. “The Croom family took me in after the storm and made sure that I was safe and on April 28, 2011, we went back to Alberta City to see if there was anything we could do to help the community.” Plans for rebuilding the
church are currently in works and Croom said he anticipates returning to their own church in the next two years. The new location will be behind Alberta City Baptist Church. Since the tornado, Pastor Croom said College Hill Baptist Church has added about 80 new members and are continuing to move forward. “We are utilizing this time to continue to reach out to the community,” Croom said. “We feel that the church is always in our heart and brick cannot contain our God.” On Easter Sunday, the weekend before the storm, Rev. Croom had preached a sermon entitled “Now is the Time” and told his primarily black congregation that God had put in his heart that a storm of a magnitude Tuscaloosa had never witnessed was coming, he said. When the sun came out after the morning storms on April 27, 2011, the pastor said he knew it was not a good sign for what was going to come. “When we heard the storm hit Alberta, I was completely devastated,” the pastor said. “We had to immediately start to look for a new place to worship.” Although the storm hit on Wednesday, the members of the College Hill Baptist Church were worshipping in the Campus View Auditorium at the University Church of Christ the following Sunday, he said. “My strength with the lord had increased tremendously, and I feel I have reached a higher spiritual level in the last year,” Teresa Croom said. “We have learned that we are the church, and the [physical] church was just a building.” Currently, the congregation of College Hill Baptist Church still meets in the Campus View Auditorium of the University Church of Christ for their Sunday sermons,
he said. For their weekly Bible studies, they utilize the Youth Auditorium at the First Baptist Church in downtown Tuscaloosa. “I tell my dad all the time that our church family has lifted to a higher spiritual level, and that’s the most beautiful thing I’ve been able to realize since we’ve been fellowshipping with the First Baptist Church and the University Church of Christ,” Teresa Croom said. “Sometimes, before you can rebuild, your slate has to be clean and become new.” Several congregation members have received new homes, automobiles and job opportunities since the storm, Pastor Croom said.
“One of our members who lost her entire house has gotten a new automobile, and another has received a new home from Habitat for Humanity,” Pastor Croom said. “We are blessed that there was no loss of life [within our congregation], and all of the material things our members have lost have been replaced above and beyond through the grace of God.” Teresa Croom said keeping her faith in God is the best way to continue to move forward. “As long as you continuously praise Him in the middle of the situation, God will always bless you,” she said. “He always has his own time table, and it’s in his will and it’s going to prosper.”
CW | Shannon Auvil
Top: College Hill Baptist Church was heavily damaged by the storms of April 27, 2011. However, church members say the undamaged sanctuary gave the congregation hope. Above: Church Pastor Kevin Croom wanted his congregation to know that the church would rebuild.
Year of recovery brings family closer together By Ashanka Kumari | Staff Reporter
Kevin Bannister biked two and a half miles from Alberta City to his sister’s home several hours after the tornado on April 27, 2011. The only thing he had was a small flashlight between his teeth to guide him. The trip, from his home on 10th Street East to his sister’s home near Buffalo Wild Wings on McFarland Boulevard, took between 30-45 minutes. Before the tornado, his wife Felicia Bannister could not recall a time when her husband had ridden a bicycle in the 14 years they have been married. But Kevin Bannister said his mind was not focused on himself, but on ensuring the safety of his wife and son. “My wife asked how I could ride a bike at night with just a small flashlight, but I just told her that sometimes you just have to do what you have to do,” he said. “There were times where I had to stop for a few minutes to catch my breath, but
I would just keep getting back on it and riding.” The neighborhood was entirely dark, and when he finally arrived on 15th Street, all he could see were the flashlights of people walking, pushing carts and walking alongside trucks filled with injured people, he said. Earlier that day, Felicia, Kevin and their son KeVaughn sat together in their bathroom closet for safety during the storm. “We piled in and braced ourselves,” Felicia Bannister said. “We could hear the storm coming and it sounded like one of the biggest jumbo jets you ever wanted to hear. It had the train sound, but it sounded like it was coming so fast and we could hear stuff being thrown around.” As an extra precaution, KeVaughn Bannister put on a football helmet after Felicia heard a weatherperson on television advise having children
put on a football helmet if they had one. “When we were in the closet, my son put on his football helmet, and I held a little doll I had named Dolly alongside my husband. We were sitting and praying,” she said. “I remember putting my arms through my son’s and holding onto him thinking, ‘God, if our house gets hit, I’m trying to hold onto us, so we can at least end up somewhere together.’” After the tornado, the Bannister family stayed with Kevin’s sister for a few nights before moving into an apartment for the next 10 months. Recently, they returned to their Alberta home. “There are still things to be done, and we are still trying to get [repairs] wrapped up,” Felicia Bannister said. “Our house had quite a bit of damage to it, but it wasn’t destroyed like many others including two homes right in front of us. It’s
just amazing because when we started hearing about and seeing the damage that had been done, we were shocked and overwhelmed.” Since the tornado, Kevin Bannister feels he and his neighbors have gotten closer; though, he wonders why it took a devastating event to initiate this bond. “It shows that there are people who do care when you get in trouble or when something happens,” he said. “I thank God for sparing our lives, and we are very thankful.” The Bannister home, as well as the carport where Felicia’s car was, were both damaged by two large trees. After the storm initially hit and Kevin felt it was safe, he told his family they could exit the closet and began helping people in his neighborhood who had received worse damage. Less than an hour after the first storm, the family heard
CW | Mitchell O. Hughes
Top: After 10 months living in an apartment, the Bannister family was recently able to move back into their Alberta City home. Bottom: Kevin Bannister points out damage caused to his home during the April 27, 2011 storms. about a second storm coming in their direction and went into a neighbor’s basement where they stayed until they felt it was safe again. Today, the Bannister family’s home has been repainted and has new windows and floors but most importantly, the family has gotten a lot closer to one
another, Felicia Bannister said. “We have learned to appreciate every day because no one is promised a tomorrow or the next hour,” she said. “You have to appreciate every minute of life and take the good and bad while being thankful that we have each other and family support.”
Friday, April 27, 2012
The Crimson White The Crimson White
Friday, April 27, 2012
Garden Project promotes growth
Community Spotlight // Forest Lake
UA professors question return to historic neighborhood
Erica Smith and Josalyn Randall work in the garden behind University Place Elementary.
By Jordan Cissell | Staff Reporter
CW | Katie Bennett
By Jordan Cissell Staff Reporter firstname.lastname@example.org The Druid City Garden Project is almost hidden, tucked away behind University Place Elementary School on the corner of an overgrown athletic field. Only a sunflower-laden banner hung from a crooked fence section in the field’s opposite corner, alerts passersby to the garden’s presence. The banner reads “We Are Coming Back:” the Forest Lake neighborhood’s mantra for the process the community faces of recovering from the devastating events of April 27, 2011. The project, which was started in the neighborhood before the tornado, has grown along with the community throughout the recovery. Now, the garden is poised to help make the slogan’s assertion a reality. According to the DCGP website, the organization, which runs off of volunteer engagement, will act “as a locus for community activity, cooperation and vitality” by “reinvigorating empty urban spaces with community garden plots, facilitating the development of school gardens and implementing educational programs.” UA professors and Forest Lake resi-
dents Andy and Rashmi Grace founded the DCGP after embarking on a personal project to monitor their food consumption, a process the couple documented in Andy Grace’s film “Eating Alabama.” “About four years ago, Rashmi and I decided to try this experiment where we would only eat locally-grown food,” Andy Grace said. “In the process, we got to know a lot of local farmers, and we started to care a lot about where our food comes from. That’s where we kind of led into this idea, to build a community around food and start that dialogue.” The Graces met no resistance from school officials. “I thought the idea was terrific because a garden would open other avenues of learning for students and teachers,” Deron Cameron, principal of University Place Elementary, said. “Our school believes we need to expand students’ experiences, and this was a wonderful opportunity to do this. Our garden is a vehicle for teaching and integrating hands-on learning across the curriculum.” After their proposal to the school board was approved, the Graces set to work building the garden in the summer of 2010. The organization originally
worked with 10 University Place classes, teaching the children the methods and importance of healthy food production and operating a farm stand at the school to sell the harvests. “A lot of our children just don’t get regular access to fresh produce,” Rashmi Grace said. “We think that’s really important, and we’re working to change that, even if it’s just a little bit here in our community.” Like the community it calls home, the garden was hit hard by the April tornado. “We live right on the edge of all of the destruction. We lost a tree and our fences, but no real damage to our house,” Rashmi Grace said. “I feel like we lost more here [at the garden] than we did at our home.” University Place Elementary was severely damaged. Fiberglass, trash and other debris from nearby homes covered the garden beds. “We cleaned all of the fiberglass out of the strawberries, dug everything up and replanted all of the beds with flowers,” Rashmi Grace said. “We wanted to have something pretty for the neighborhood to look at.” The school was closed and relocated to Stillman Heights Education Center, where it currently operates, while repairs take place. To continue serving its students, the DCGP also opened a new garden space at the school’s temporary campus. University Place pupils now carry out their curriculum at the second garden, and the original location is primarily tended by community volunteers and UA students as the service-learning aspect of their participation in the Honors College’s Food and Community class. “Our garden is part of University Place Elementary,” Cameron said. “By bringing another garden to our [new location], it helped tremendously with continuity and a sense of ‘home.’ Garden lessons are activities our students looked forward to each week last year, so it was only natural to continue at the current location.” The Graces said they haven’t decided whether they will continue to operate the auxiliary garden once University Place
Elementary returns to its original location, but they do hope to see similar initiatives developing throughout Forest Lake and the entire Tuscaloosa community. “We really want to create a school garden incubator program here at this [original] site and train teachers, parents and staff of schools in the area how they run a garden and plan a curriculum for their own schools,” Andy Grace said. “We want people to learn from our success here and spread it throughout the community.” Though he feels the garden will not single-handedly precipitate Forest Lake’s rebirth, Andy Grace hopes the DCGP’s work can help motivate the process. “I don’t think Forest Lake is going to be reborn through food, but the garden, I think, was, and continues to be, a space of hope after the storm,” he said. “We planted those flowers, and a lot of people came out needing to see something aesthetically pleasing. The garden has really been a kind of symbol of hope.” Cameron feels the garden’s swift return to operation following the tornado has been an emblem of the entire community’s “determined sense of resiliency,” and the Graces are confident the neighborhood is on the right track to moving beyond symbolism and bringing the banner’s prediction to fruition. “I don’t think Forest Lake can get back to how it was before — the neighborhood has two words in its name, and one of those doesn’t exist anymore — but I think it can come back, and it can come back better,” Andy Grace said. “I’d really like to see Forest Lake come back as a community for families.” Rashmi Grace said the school board’s commitment to rebuilding University Place Elementary is critical to bringing families back to the neighborhood, and she hopes the continued operation of the Project will further educate and inspire returning children. “[DCGP] is a unique program, no other schools in the area have it,” Rashmi Grace said. “Having something like this going on in the community is a positive thing that can really help make a difference in Forest Lake becoming the community we all want it to be.”
CW | Mitchell Hughes
Former Forest Lake resident Alexa Chilcutt chose not to return to the neighborhood after the tornado destroyed much of the area. Many Forest Lake residents have decided not to rebuild.
Community Spotlight // The Downs
It’s Saturday morning, and Linda and Robert Parsons are inside the Starbucks at Midtown Village, each carefully sipping a steaming cup of coffee. This caffeinated start to the morning has been the Forest Lake residents’ longrunning weekend routine. But in the past year, the ritual has been significantly altered. “I used to be able to just get up in the morning and walk over to Starbucks for some coffee before my morning stroll,” said Linda Parsons, a UA accounting professor and secretary of the Forest Lake Neighborhood Association. “Now, we usually drive over on the weekends, get some coffee and check on the neighborhood.” It’s a trivial modification to a commonplace routine, perhaps, but nevertheless a testament to April 27, 2011’s pervasive and lasting metamorphosis of every aspect of the lives of Forest Lake residents. The tornado destroyed the second floor of the Parsons’ home and damaged the first beyond repair, forcing them to demolish what was left and move away temporarily while rebuilding plans are set in order. Robert Parsons was taking shelter in his basement when the storm hit. “I didn’t hear any trains or airplanes. To me, it sounded like ten thousand tennis balls flying into the house on all sides,” he said. “When I walked out of the garage, I thought I was hallucinating. I had to go into the garage and come back out to make sure that what I saw was really there.” What he saw was not the Forest Lake neighborhood that had existed less than a minute before. Homes were reduced to rubble, trees were torn to splinters and ripped from the ground and debris was littered the lake. Linda Parsons, who had taken shelter on campus, said she left for the house upon receiving a text message from her husband reading, “We’re alive. Neighborhood gone.” She had been busily writing tests in preparation for finals, but quickly realized more pressing matters had stormed into the queue. “Everything had to be done
Residents among first to rebuild
Before / After
By William Evans | Special to the Crimson White
Before the tornado, Forest Lake was an idyllic neighborhood for Robert and Linda Parsons, whose house is seen here. CW | Mitchell Hughes
Beth Riggs never moved out of her house after the storm, but she said living there feels more like camping out than living in a home. at once. We had to find a place to stay. We had to try and salvage what we could from our house and then find a storage unit to put it in. We had to let family know that we were all right. And I had those finals to write,” she said. “There was so much to do.” One year later, there still is. The lake, having been drained to identify and remove debris, is a muddy depression immediately surrounded by a largely barren field, with very few trees to break up the landscape. Excluding some new construction, especially along the western bank, most properties surrounding the lake are empty. According to Linda Parsons, 24 of the 31 homes that surrounded the lake were completely destroyed on April 27, and the other seven were damaged. Only three homes are currently being reconstructed. “We still have no idea who plans to rebuild and who is staying,” she said. For some owners, the rebuilding process has been delayed by conflicts with insurance companies or uncertainties over new flood zoning. Many lots have been kept vacant by internal conflict, residents struggling to decide whether they want to return to an area with devas-
tation in its past and a long recovery process in its future. Other former residents, like Alexa Chilcutt, have already made the decision not to return. Chilcutt, director of the UA Public Speaking Program, and her son took shelter in the Parsons’ basement with Robert Parsons while the tornado destroyed her home next door. Chilcutt and her husband have moved into a home across the river and are working to sell their Forest Lake property. “I loved living there — it was fantastic,” she said. “The neighborhood had this perfect blend of privacy but being in the city. It was this haven of nature in the middle of town.” Chilcutt said she and her husband, who owns a building company, have constructed homes before but aren’t willing to devote the time and energy necessary for the undertaking this time around. With their children either in college or the final semester of high school, the convenience of living within a close proximity to their children’s school is no longer a factor. Additionally, uncertainty over the extent and speed of the neighborhood’s recovery weighed heavily in the Chilcutts’ decision. “Everything that I loved about it is going to take at
least five years to come back,” she said. “I would feel too exposed moving there now. There is nothing. No trees, no homes.” Chilcutt is not alone in her concern. Even those who have decided to rebuild in Forest Lake admit to nagging doubts about the neighborhood’s future, including the Parsons, who began construction the second week of April. “You had this diaspora where everybody left and spread out all over the place. It was hard to get in touch with people,” Robert Parsons said. “No one wanted to be the first to move back, because you didn’t know if anyone else was going to, and you’d just be alone there in the middle of a field.” “In those first few months, we asked ourselves, ‘Do we really want to come back?’ There were no trees, no neighbors, no community,” Linda Parsons said. “As much as I tried to put on a brave face and exude confidence and convince other people to come back, too, I had that uncertainty in the back of my mind, unsureness over the loss of community.” Beth Riggs, assistant to the director of the school of Library and Information Studies, still feels like she is camping out in her house,
CW | John Michael Simpson
In the Downs neighborhood, dozens of houses sit on a heart-shaped loop. The tornado stripped the Downs of all its trees except magnolias.
CW | Mitchell O. Hughes
Now a year after the storm, the Parsons consider whether they will ever return to the neighborhood.
which sustained substantial roof, floor and furniture damage from water and debris during the storm. She said the tornado and the recovery process have served as a catalyst for her development of a deeper personal connection to her neighbors and the community. “I’ve become more involved in the Neighborhood Association and gone to city hall meetings, which have provided lots of opportunities to get to know my neighbors,” she said. “I was a fairly new resident — I hadn’t even been there for two years – and I hadn’t had many chances to really meet all of my neighbors. This really put it in fast forward. I have a deeper personal investment in the community.”
It’s an investment Chilcutt feels is critical to the neighborhood’s successful, if slow, recovery — a renaissance she, Riggs and the Parsons know is within reach. “To come back, they have to be morally invested in the long term building-back of the neighborhood,” Chilcutt said. “It will never be the same as it was before, but when Forest Lake comes back over the course of the next several years, it will be a great place to live, because the people that are coming back are invested in its long-term recovery and full of care and love for the community.”
Before the sky sickened to a pale green a year ago, the Downs neighborhood was known for its trees. One of the three historic neighborhoods of Tuscaloosa, the Downs tapers off of Hargrove Road and slopes like a sink bowl from its northern crest to its southern depression. Sixtynine houses ascend and fall like a canyon of roofs along a heart-shaped loop that sees walkers each night circling up and around the street, but skyward, one can see a yawning horizon that one year ago would have been obscured by a canopy of trees. Jennifer and Tom Land have the only magnolia tree for four houses on their southern block of the Downs. “Have you noticed how we still have magnolias?” Jennifer Land asked. “Magnolia trees are amazingly resilient.” The Lands’ magnolia tree, as if by natural selection, withstood the winds of the April 27, 2011 tornado that deforested the Downs into an urban prairie. “There are no trees, and the wind is incredible,” Tom Land said. “We have no noise barrier. We have no wind barrier.”
“And our furniture blows off of the porch,” Jennifer Land added. “I used to could barely hear a train when I was working in the yard,” Tom Land continued. “Now, I can sit in the house with the television on and hear a train easily.” The Lands were home when the April 27 tornado unwound from the clouds and burrowed into the Downs like a half-mile drill. “I remember being hyperfocused and hearing every tree hit, you know, and you (could) hear, ‘Boom!’” Tom Land said. As uprooted trees thudded against the Lands’ roof, one neighbor’s pine tree slung from across the street and clipped the Lands’ gutter with enough momentum to cartwheel it downward and slice the Lands’ water spigot like a buzz saw. “[It] decapitated our spigot,” Tom Land said. “The water started shooting across the whole place.” The Lands’ yard had become barricaded with debris stacked about 13 feet high and 20 feet across, he said, and the water loosened from the sliced spigot was soaking the entire southern
block of the Downs where the downhill tumbling of the tornado had done its greatest damage. But Jennifer and Tom got lucky. Screams could be heard from the Section 8 housing of Rosedale Court, stretched in ruin half a football field behind their house. “We’re fifty yards from people being killed right there,” said Paavo Hanninen, a neighbor of the Lands who also lives on the southern block. The storm rendered about a dozen of the houses unlivable, although each of the 69 houses in the Downs endured damage from fallen trees or airborne debris. No Downs resident was injured, which apparently used up the neighborhood’s luck. Jennifer and Tom said many efforts to restore the neighborhood to pre-storm normalcy have been met with resistance from insurance companies, contractors or the city administration, to varying degrees. On May 13, the Tuscaloosa News published a letter to the editor sent from the Downs Neighborhood Association that asked for the city government to restore the Downs to pre-storm conditions. One
request called for the rebuilding of the fence along 10th Avenue that was torn down to make an entrance for construction vehicles. “We needed it that way, and everybody understood that,” Tom Land said. “But we didn’t have the promise that it was going to be put back up,” Jennifer added. “And we didn’t want this street to be a cut-through from 10th [Avenue] to Hargrove.” As for the houses damaged in the storm, Tom Land said several of them have been rebuilt completely, but at least two stand in a deadlock with their insurance companies. “It’s been hard,” he said about the hurdles of insurance adjustments. Then, he thought of a more appropriate description. “It sucks. Sitting through the tornado was the easy part, if it didn’t kill you.” On top of insurance quarrels, the Downs’ zoning as a historic district has complicated the neighborhood’s recovery. Specific guidelines set forth by the Historic Preservation Commission must be met. Window frames must be made of wood or wood vinyl
and have the same number of window panes, for instance, and fences must have their supports on the inside rather than exposing the posts to the onlooker. But the staggering number of houses to be rebuilt led in many instances to approval being granted from the city without the formal procedures involving the commission. Overall, Tom said the city administration, under the leadership of Mayor Walt Maddox, has taken the right steps toward establishing a longterm, sustainable recovery. He disagreed with University history professor David Beito who, in a recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, claimed that Tuscaloosa was flagging behind Joplin, Mo., in its recovery. “You know what, everybody wants it long-term, except for the business owners who have to get back up,” Tom said. “The residents want it to be something good, longterm. “I’ve been to so many meetings. There are tons of people at this stuff—a lot of input. He [Beito] acted like nobody was getting input. “There are some things that
I don’t agree with, but overall, they’re doing great,” he said. “I think most people feel that way. All of my friends here— we all have a voice. I spoke [with the mayor] about a few different things. Overall, though, I’m really pleased with the mayor. I speak with him a good bit now. I don’t agree with everything, but how can you get everybody to agree on anything?” Today, ten minutes after 5 p.m., the Downs will have an informal commemoration of the tornado’s anniversary. In tow with a bottle of champagne, Jennifer and Tom will accompany some of their neighbors up the street where they walked one year ago out of their neighborhood and into uncertainty. Side by side, they will pass each house that stands as a physical embodiment of the community’s resilience as they head toward one of the few trees near the Downs’ entrance that remains since April 27. “We have this togetherness now,” Jennifer said. “It would have taken years to develop, and the tornado accelerated it. “We’re meeting under the magnolia.”
8 Friday, April 27, 2012
The Crimson White
Community Spotlight // Rosedale
Struggling to find a new home By Katherine Martin | Assistant News Editor
Michael Moore and his girlfriend, Janice Prince, sat on the front porch of Moore’s home of more than 12 years in Rosedale Court housing project. They watched their neighbors, other residents of the “Big U,” walk along the sidewalks, stopping by other units to check in on friends and family. They could hear children running on the playground, performing plays and singing. Before April 27, a little rain didn’t send anyone scattering home.
Prince, who had gotten her hair done earlier in the day, retreated inside the apartment so her hair wouldn’t get messed up. As Moore walked down to the corner of his building, Prince called him from inside the apartment. She had just gotten off the phone with their 12-year-old son, Shaquille, who was visiting his brother’s house across the neighborhood, telling them a tornado was headed toward Tuscaloosa in 20 minutes. “Daylight turned to night,” Moore recalled. “I said, ‘Baby, come here! You’ve got to see this, you’ve really got to see this!’ It covered everything you could see.” The couple ran frantically back into the apartment and closed the door, but it instantly flew back on its hinges. They took shelter in the bathroom, where Prince hid in the bathtub while Moore held the door closed as the violent wind tested his strength. “I dropped my hands and I just started praying, praying fast,” Moore said. “She kept calling my name, screaming my name, and I would look up, and it was almost like she was kneeled down in the tub, but it looked like she was raised up out of the tub. She kept calling,
‘Michael, Michael, help me,’ and I told her, ‘Don’t call my name, call God.’” Moore said the noise – the sound of a train, the thrashing of wood and metal – echoed around the apartment like someone was trying to break in. “All of a sudden, all those sounds stopped,” he said. “You could hear the wind, just breezing, blowing, like it was leaving us.” With minor damage to his apartment, Moore stayed in Rosedale Court for more than a month after the EF4 tornado destroyed 80 units and did major damage to 16 of the 188 units in the housing project on April 27. Della Jackson, who works at the Tuscaloosa Housing Authority, said Moore stayed until they had to make him leave so workers could begin Phase I of demolition on the site in late summer 2011. “When we had to actually move everybody out, I was actually surprised at the people who stayed,” Jackson said. “You’ve been there all of your life. They didn’t have anything, but they had each other. Now they’re scattered all over Tuscaloosa and Northport.” Chris Hall, assistant to the executive director of the
Tuscaloosa Housing Authority, said residents were hesitant to leave because they didn’t have a safety net of family and friends to call for somewhere to stay. After identifying residents and going through the normal relocation process of interviewing applicants and finding permanent places to live, some residents were given vouchers to live in surplus housing around Tuscaloosa. Jackson said the reality of the storm didn’t seem to hit Moore until after a few months. “Mr. Moore started to pull away,” she said. “One day, he just broke down. It just took over. The initial shock, it just hit him.” Beyond the human tragedy of what occurred on April 27, Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox said moving Rosedale forward has not been that difficult compared to other projects related to the storm. “We’d been working on it prior to April 27, so all the tornado did was expedite the processes,” Maddox said. “The funding was in place. In fact, the insurance proceeds are going a long way toward reconstruction.” Hall said Phase I, which is scheduled to be completed by May 2013, will cost $17 million
Above: Rosedale Court is currently in Phase I of construction and is scheduled to be completed in May 2013 CW | Drew Hoover
Left: The new units will be similar to McKenzie Court housing project. Submitted
and consist of 88 units, 52 of which will be low income tax credit units, and 36 will be public housing. Phases II and III will add an additional 209 units, 123 specifically for the elderly and will total $32 million. Phase II has a scheduled to be completed in the spring of 2013 and Phase II in the spring of 2015. Hall said the project, which is contracted to Hollyhand Realty, will be very similar to that of the McKenzie Court housing project that was renovated in 2010 in terms of style and amenities like central heat and air, dishwashers and more green space. Moore now lives in backside of the Crescent East housing project in Holt. His black Mazda RX-7, with its cracked
windshield, bent metal and windows covered in trash bags, sits in the front yard, an everyday reminder of April 27. In the living room, porcelain angels guard the door, and the Holy Bible is on display. Church notes litter the table. “They told us, ‘Just keep to yourself, and you’ll be alright,’” he said. Although the application process for those wanting to return to Rosedale has not begun yet, Moore hopes he along with his former neighbors, are able to return. When interviewing applicants for the McKenzie Court housing project, Hall said half of the residents hold them they wanted to return to the community, but only about 15 per-
cent actually returned to the revitalized site. “The kids change school zones, and they get comfortable in their new schools; they have new neighbors and new friends, and as nice as the units, are they just don’t want to go through all that hassle of changing school and moving again,” Hall said. “While their intention was to move back, a lot of them don’t.” Moore still plans on going back. Back to the Rose. “That storm, it took the top of the Rose,” Moore said, “it came in, and it took the top of it straight away. It left the bottom, as long as you’ve got that — the stem that’s rooted to the ground — things can grow and come back. It’ll come back.”
Rosedale ‘mayor’ keeps watchful eye on residents scattered across town Doug Wedgeworth is no stranger at the Tuscaloosa Housing Authority. He walks through the double doors, tips his blue cap to the receptionist who greets him by name and hands him a visitors’ pass, then, without having to ask permission, confidently strides into the first floor meeting room. On the conference table he places a two-inch-thick Tuscaloosa Forward binder, and on the cover, under his name, “Mayor Appointment” is typed in bold, black ink. It’s only 10 a.m., and Wedgeworth has driven across town, responded to multiple phone calls and checked on the community he called home for more than five years. Just a day in the life of a mayor. The Mayor of Rosedale, that is. A year after the April 27 tornado, Wedgeworth continues to monitor the progress being made on the Rosedale property while 96 displaced families live scattered across the city. Since the storm destroyed 80 of the 188 units, Wedgeworth has been the go-to man for information about Rosedale for public officials and community members alike. Before the storm, plans were already in the works to revitalize the housing project. Residents met with city officials in the gym to discuss plans for the future of Rosedale. At the meeting, Wedgeworth
and other members of the community were given a map of the property with the names of every resident labeled over the unit they occupied. The map, Wedgeworth said, helped locate neighbors just hours after the tornado touched down. “If we couldn’t pinpoint where somebody was, we could go ask Doug,” said Dino Fort, assistant executive director at the Tuscaloosa Housing Authority. “Doug knew where they were.” On the morning of April 27, Wedgeworth drove to his aunt’s house just one street over. Instead of spending 30 or 45 minutes visiting like he usually did, Wedgeworth stayed until just minutes before the storm hit. “Something bad is going to happen today, I’ve just got this feeling,” Wedgeworth told his family. His family responded, “You think you’re the weatherman.” Once the sky turned dark gray and rain began beating harder on the roof, Wedgeworth said the Lord told him to get up and go home. “The third time he said ‘Get up, go home,’ I got up and started walking from my aunt’s house,” Wedgeworth said, “I felt just like someone was walking with me, patting my back, just like he’s saying, ‘Turn around!’” As soon as Wedgeworth turned around, he saw it. The mile-wide EF4 tornado was crossing Greensboro Avenue right before his eyes. “I’m frozen,” he said. “I’ve
never seen this before — I’ve seen it on television — but who has ever actually been in it this bad and lived to tell about it? I saw it pick up a house. I mean, the farther and farther the house rose, all I kept screaming was, ‘Those people are dead.’ It just exploded. It just shattered.” Rock and dirt began to stir in the air, and Wedgeworth ran though Rosedale Court warning neighbors of the approaching storm. “When I turned around again, it was as wide as I could see. Dark. Just whipping,” he said. Wedgeworth darted into his apartment and took shelter in the bathtub with his girlfriend. “If you’re going to take me, take me quick,” he prayed. Once the skies cleared and the winds calmed, panic set in. “It was just chaos,” Wedgeworth said. “It happened, then I was with the police standing over the body of the girl I’ve found. I’d just spoke to that lady on my way to my aunt’s house. I’d just had a 10or 15-minute conversation with her.” Wedgeworth recovered the body of 26-year-old Shena Hutchins from the rubble steps away from his own unit. Another bloodied neighbor was out in the street yelling about his wife and children who were trapped in their apartment with a wall on top of them. Along with city officials, Wedgeworth cleared debris and pulled others from the destruction. When night fell, Wedgeworth walked to the Chevron station where buses
My mother’s keepsake, that was the most important. You can’t get pictures and stuff back. Once you lose them in storms, you can get those back.
By Katherine Martin Assistant News Editor email@example.com
— Doug Wedgeworth
were taking people to shelters around the city. But he couldn’t go. “I can’t go to a shelter,” he said to himself. “All these strange people — that’s a lot of people. You can fix your house, board the windows or something, and just stay. It’ll be better tomorrow.” For two days Wedgeworth and a few others snuck back into their apartments to continue the rescue mission and help neighbors guard and recover personal belongings. In his own apartment, Wedgeworth was able to salvage his own valuables. “My mother’s keepsake,” he said. “That was the most important. You can’t get pictures and stuff back. Once you lose them in storms, you can get those back.” His generous spirit both before and after the tornado inspired neighbors to dub him the mayor of Rosedale. “You’ve got the mayor of Tuscaloosa and the mayor of Rosedale,” he said. “I look out for Rosedale. I really do.” As a member of the Citizens Advisory Committee,
Wedgeworth and other Tuscaloosa residents chosen based on recommendations, review their fellow citizens’ plans for the future of Tuscaloosa. Mayor Walt Maddox said members like Wedgeworth understand just how difficult recovery could be and how meaningful it needed to be to rebuild in a way to honor those who lost so much. “He has been an unbelievable asset to the city,” Maddox said. “If anyone deserved the title and responsibilities as the Mayor of Rosedale, it would be Doug.” Maddox said Wedgeworth was chosen because officials knew how deeply he cares about his community. People like him, Maddox said, are the type of people you want by your side when you need advice. “Everything he talks about, everything he believes in is straight from the heart,” Maddox said. “Doug is one of those who actively jumps in and wants to help and wants to make a difference.” For his service, whether it
be delivering food from the West Alabama Food Bank to the doors of elderly residents before the tornado or working closely with city officials afterwards, Wedgeworth has not received any money. “I get my blessings,” he said. “Why should you look for payment every time you do something for somebody? Do it because you want to do it for them. I feel like that’s my gift. The Lord put us all here for a reason. I feel like He has me here to help people. I don’t care who it is.” On the day construction workers tore down the walls of what remained of Rosedale Court, Wedgeworth and a few neighbors stood quietly and watched it fall. “It was kind of sad to see it go,” he said. “But you’ve got to understand, there’s going to be something more beautiful than it was last time. It’s something to look forward to” It won’t be like it used to be though, he said, because it can never be like it used to be. “A lot of us want to come back, but a lot of them don’t,” he said. “But they need to understand, you can’t run from God. Stop running from God. Because you can submit yourself to God; because this could happen anywhere.” The tornado, Wedgeworth said, gave the community just what it needed: a wake up call. “[Jesus] gave me a new lease on life. There’s a lot of stuff I used to do I don’t do anymore. I’m not supposed be here. I’m supposed to be sucked up off my porch.”
The Crimson White
Friday, April 27, 2012
The lessons of past destruction
Before / After Huntsville, 1989
By SoRelle Wyckoff | Opinions Editor
Throughout history, towns affected by tornadoes have rebuilt among the rubble. Tuscaloosa now faces the same task of redevelopment and can draw from the past for hints to the future.
“By looking at other towns, you have a chance to develop another way of viewing your city and its traditions,” Lisa Lindquist Dorr, associate professor of history at the University of Alabama, said. “This gives you a chance to see what a community chooses to do when they have the ability to reinvent themselves. And you then have a chance to reconsider the way your town is and ask yourself if it should really stay that way.” Three towns, Waco, Texas, hit in 1953, Lubbock, Texas, hit in 1970 and Huntsville, Ala., hit in 1989, had distinctive variables that played a role in the cities’ development. The outcomes were three vastly different cities. “It’s fascinating how natural disasters create microcosms,” Dorr said. “Social trends get exaggerated and magnified with a natural disaster.” In 1953, an EF4 tornado ran through downtown Waco, killing 114 people. The college town is still recovering and initiating their newest attempt at downtown restoration this year. City Manager Larry Groth said the slow response and attempt at reconstruction had a lot to do with American sentiments at the time. “In the 1950s, we were worried more about civil defense stuff and the Russians and the Cold War than we were about the tornadoes,” Groth said. Lubbock, home of Texas Tech University, was hit by an EF5 tornado in May 1970. The tornado destroyed residential areas and a majority of Lubbock’s downtown area. But, unlike Waco, Lubbock was prepared. The East Texas town was chosen by the U.S. Office of Civil Defense to participate in a pilot program preparing cities for natural disasters and for four years, the town trained and, planned for emergencies. Lubbock Mayor Tom Martin
Google Maps Kellen Jenkins, The Globe
was hired as Lubbock’s Public Information Officer the same day as the 1970 tornado, and he has watched Lubbock evolve since then. Martin believes it was the preparation that saved the local government of Lubbock from losing control of the city. “After the threat of USSR subsided, the idea came to prepare towns for natural disasters. Before this research and preparation, a city would basically collapse. A national guard would come in, take over, and the civil government almost ceased to function,” Martin said. “But it helped us recover fairly quick as a community. When the tornado hit, everyone knew what to do.” Like Lubbock, Huntsville, hit in 1989, had a prepared system. Huntsville City Administrator Rex Reynolds was the supervisor of the narcotics unit, located on Airport Road, which was in the direct path of the tornado. Reynolds called the first 24 hours after the tornado a “lifeand-safety recovery mode.” “The retail center on Airport Road was struck, and there were huge piles of debris and metal. We knew people were missing, and we knew people were in that shopping center,” Reynolds said. “We handled it like a crime scene.” Like the presence of the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, the presence of Baylor University and Texas Tech University played a large part in the redevelopment of Waco and Lubbock. “A lot of times in college towns, there is a town and gown divide. And in an event like this that becomes meaningless and in the rebuilding process, you have a chance to create that unity,” Dorr said. “And having that relationship widens the reaches of community, because it provides connection to many places.”
Now, Waco, Lubbock and Huntsville are able to look back on how they, as cities, have grown since the tornados and how they got to that place. Today, Waco still suffers from its downtown devastation. The downtown area is still rebuilding process and businesses are slowly trickling back. “It’s unfortunate it took so long for people to realize how the core of a city is important,” Groth said. “It’s not the tornado itself, but what you do after. Recovery is more important than the actual tornado. All you can do is hope it never happens again.” To decide the direction of Waco’s reconstruction, an election was held to vote on the mayor and city council’s plans. But the vote did not implement immediate change. In Lubbock, 42 years later, Mayor Martin has watched the devastation turn into development. Quickly after the debris was removed, the Lubbock City Council created the Blue Ribbon Committee, a citizen’s advisory committee to develop a plan of recovery. The committee formed a plan for the future of Lubbock, and within three months, the citizens of Lubbock approved a civic center, central library and several parks to replace the damaged areas. The residential areas were replaced by housing in other parts of the city. Lubbock now serves some of the largest higher education, medical and agricultural communities in Texas and the town has seen a significant increase in their population, as well as a feeling of community that was absent before. “There were obvious negatives with the loss of life and property,” Martin said. “But what it did do is bring the community together with a singleminded reason. It reminded
people that together we could rebuild to be even bigger and stronger.” The Huntsville reconstruction was centered on business. A planning commission consisting of community leaders and appointees from the Huntsville mayor decided who would regain their retail property and who would replace previous businesses. “Like Tuscaloosa, since we had such a widespread disaster in a small given area, it allowed for a redevelopment of businesses and more modern changes,” Reynolds said. “Yes, there was a loss of retail for some, but it ultimately created more for others. It was a ‘facelift,’ a ‘enhancement’ of airport road.” And while different variables affected Waco, Lubbock and Huntsville, their approach to change, and eventual product, provide potential insight for Tuscaloosa. “In some ways, a lot of communities have a momentum heading in a certain way, and it’s hard to get off that course. Zoning areas and residential patterns, once they start to form, are hard to change,” Dorr said. “All those things, once they get started, are very hard to stop midstream — unless you have something catastrophic.” And while Tuscaloosa’s technology, building codes and city needs are different than those from 50 years ago, city officials can learn from history in nontangible ways, too. “Through looking at other disasters, it’s important to realize this isn’t the first community this has happened to,” Dorr said. “You can look at recent communities to see changes in one aspect of community, changes in infrastructure, building, zoning. But the soul of community, how the soul of a community responds, you need a longer historical lens to see.”
City of Lubbock
Texas Collection Library
Joplin, Tuscaloosa share kindred spirit in life after tornadoes By SoRelle Wyckoff Opinions Editor firstname.lastname@example.org Less than one month after Tuscaloosa’s clash with Mother Nature, a small city in the Midwest met a similar foe. Joplin, Mo., was hit with an EF5 tornado on May 22, 2011, which claimed the lives of 161 citizens and destroyed one-third of the town. Joplin, a town of more than 50,000 people, saw 545 businesses damaged and 4,000 homes destroyed. In Tuscaloosa, which is home to just under 95,000 citizens, 53 lives were lost. The storm destroyed 116 businesses and damaged or destroyed more than 3,700 homes. Like Tuscaloosa, Joplin has spent the last year recovering. “Things that look nicer are taking the destruction’s place. Every day, something new is popping up,” said Nathan Mills, editor-in-chief of The Chart, the newspaper of Missouri Southern State University. “Joplin is going to look a lot different in a good way.” The school, which is located in Joplin, played an important role in the immediate recovery process of the city, much like the University of Alabama did with Tuscaloosa. “MSSU really supported the community,” said Lynn Onstot, public information officer for the City of Joplin. “They helped with American Red Cross, sheltering close to 400 people a night for a good couple weeks. They were also the
main gathering place, providing places to have meetings and a recovery center and they housed the volunteers, which was critical, as we had over 10,000 volunteers show up.” “The tornado definitely upped our profile in the city. Our relationship is a lot more well known,” Mills said. “Now, the University is helping a lot with scholarships to try and instill a sense of normalcy. Having a graduation, getting back to school, having a normal again all help with that.” University of Alabama students, faculty and staff played a large role in the immediate response of Tuscaloosa city, said Meredith Lynch, public relations coordinator of Incident Command for the City of Tuscaloosa. “The volunteer support from the University community was amazing. So many students came forward and really reached out in the community,” Lynch said. “In the long run, we are still working with the University of Alabama to make sure Tuscaloosa recovery reflects that relationship.” After the initial recovery, Joplin and Tuscaloosa started to rebuild. In Joplin, much of the rebuilding became the responsibility of the citizens, rather than the city. “Property owners will determine what will go on their property,” Onstot said. “Zoning is already in place, and to rezone, you have to go up in front of the zoning and planning board, so it’s not really up to the city.” Mills, who has lived in Joplin his entire
life, said these actions were reflective of the Joplin citizens. “Joplin is a very special place, everyone knows and respects their neighbors. People just go out and started cleaning and rebuilding themselves, and that’s what so special about this place, its spirit,” Mills said. “A lot of it wasn’t city officials, it was people saying, ‘This is Joplin.’ But as far as the city goes, they were really quick. And they were like, ‘hey, let’s figure this out now.’” The city of Joplin has formed the Citizens Active and Recovery team, providing citizens a chance to speak up and say what they would like to see develop. “There will be more green space, sidewalks and amenities that a city can rebuild without developers, but as a city,” Onstot said. “We sort of picked ourselves up by the bootstraps,” Mills said. Tuscaloosa took a different approach to recovery than Joplin. Eight days after the storm, city officials helped launch the Tuscaloosa Forward website to help direct reconstruction and plan for the future. “We reached out to the entire community and launched the Tuscaloosa Forward website where we received an amazing amount of insight from Tuscaloosa citizens,” Lynch said. “Mayor [Walt] Maddox then created a task force of about 50 different people to come up with an initial plan.” Lynch said Maddox also created a citizens advisory committee to serve as a voice for the community and Tuscaloosa
city to communicate through. “We took all of these ideas and turned it into a vision for the future,” Lynch said. Since last April, the city has been able to remove 99 percent of the debris, yet plans for many of the destroyed areas are still awaiting approval. “We are doing as much as we can to provide resources to help businesses build back,” Lynch said. “Tuscaloosa Forward has been a great vision for the future, and we are now working on finding funds to make that possible. Once we secure the funding, we plan to make our projects happen.” Lynch said they hope much of the funding will come from grants and government funding. “There are tons of grant opportunities out there, we want to make sure we apply for the correct ones,” Lynch said. “We also want to leverage government funding to where it can help the most people possible. We can help the housing market and help businesses if we leverage those funds correctly.” In Joplin, 429 businesses of the 545 that were destroyed have been reopened or are in the process of reopening, and 28 will not be reopening. The city has distributed 3,775 residential permits and 266 commercial permits. Of the 116 businesses destroyed in Tuscaloosa, 64 have opened or been permitted to do so. From these, 64 businesses, 44 will be relocating to areas such as Northport. Tuscaloosa has granted 2,286 residential permits and 290 commercial permits.
COMPARISONS BY THE NUMBERS • Fatalities Tuscaloosa: 53 Joplin: 161 • Business damaged Tuscaloosa: 116 Joplin: 545 • Businesses allowed to reopen Tuscaloosa: 64 Joplin: 429
Yet while Joplin and Tuscaloosa differ in reconstruction methods, both see a future with a stronger community. “Our goal is ‘One year, one community, one direction,’ and that’s exactly what we’re seeing in Joplin,” Onstot said. “This camaraderie, this miracle of the human spirit that we have gotten to know has made us so thankful. And I think it’s this kindness to continue that I would like to see as Joplin continues to grow.” Lynch reinforced the power of community in Tuscaloosa as well. “Ever since the storm, we have been able to relate to each other. I hope for the future we will have a new sense of normalcy,” Lynch said. “We can forget this pain and suffering and have a new Tuscaloosa better than it was before.”
10 Friday, April 27, 2012
The Crimson White
Tuscaloosa Service plays major Forward lays role in city’s rebirth groundwork for recovery By Taylor Holland | News Editor
By Mazie Bryant Staff Reporter email@example.com
In one of his first press conferences following the storm, Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox told residents the recovery process wouldn’t take days or weeks. It would take months and years. Since that time, 99 percent of the FEMA-estimated 1.5 million cubic yards of debris caused by the tornado has been removed, thanks in part to volunteers from across the city and the country. At last count, more than 24,000 volunteers have logged more than 220,000 hours of service through the Tuscaloosa Area Volunteer Reception Center since last April’s tornado, said Kim Montgomery, volunteer coordinator supervisor for the TAVRC. The numbers are impressive, Montgomery said, adding that the volunteers working to rebuild the city have astounded her day in and day out. “They’ve shown a great commitment to our community,” she said. “We’ve seen so many volunteers who are committed to the ongoing process; volunteers that are going to go past the anniversary. They have a mission to stay the course.” Throughout the recovery process, Montgomery said students from the University of Alabama have been the core of the TAVRC and its efforts. “It’s difficult for people with families and jobs to volunteer during the week,” she said. “During those times when families and professionals have other priorities, it’s really shined a light on the commitment students have. I think UA students have been unmatched
HOW TO HELP West Alabama Food Bank When: Mondays, noon to 2 p.m. Volunteers will sort donated food and conduct mobile food pantries. Contact: Jade Watters jawatters@crimson. ua.edu in their efforts.” Likewise, the Community Service Center on the UA campus has seen many students volunteer in all aspects of the rebuilding process. Wahnee Sherman, director of the CSC, said that although there is really no way to know just how many volunteer hours have been logged through the organization, students have helped with everything from debris removal to rebuilding. “Our students have been invaluable throughout this process,” Sherman said. “So many of our students were helped by others, so it was only natural that they would want to continue to help others. I knew they would seek out ways to help this community. Through something like this, students become even more connected to the community that is their home.” Sherman said she hoped the CSC’s focus on recovery, through numerous events such as Hands On Tuscaloosa,
Boys & Girls Club of Tuscaloosa When: Tuesdays, 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. Volunteers will assist in classrooms in a local elementary school. Contact: Tara Youngblood firstname.lastname@example.org
Tuscaloosa’s One Place at Matthews Elementary When: Tuesdays, 3 to 5 p.m. Volunteers will assist with arts and crafts projects at an after school program. Contact: Paige Bussanich pmbussanich@crimson.
its Family Weekend Service Project and others, has led to an increased spirit of giving overall. “We have tried to really focus on understanding what the nonprofits in our community need and how our students can help with those needs,” she said. “We’ve continued to try to make sure our students can be that kind of resource to the organizations in this community who have been and continue to help people who need help in the Tuscaloosa area.” Since April 27, Sherman said students have been good about helping out wherever and however they are needed, which has prevented the CSC from having any problems gaining volunteers and resources for nontornado related work. “I think the thing that sticks out the most is that our students truly want to make a difference in this community,” she said. “I think they understand the community in a way that they didn’t
before April 27, 2011, and they feel more connected to the community. That has driven their desire to want to give back.” Andres Mendieta, student director of volunteer outreach and public relations at the CSC, said he has been exposed to the many issues that plagued Tuscaloosa before the tornado through the work he has done since last April. “Before the tornado, I thought of volunteering as simply helping those less fortunate than myself,” Mendieta said. “Now, I see those that I volunteer for more so as neighbors and fellow citizens. People of all socioeconomic statuses were affected by the tornado and we are all victims together. The tornado really put into perspective the relationship I’ve had with my fellow man.” Both Montgomery and Sherman said their respective organizations plan to continue with the city’s recovery process indefinitely.
Counseling, community mend emotional wounds By Melissa Brown Senior Staff Reporter email@example.com Long after the tornado receded and the rubble settled, the April 27 tornado continued to tear through people’s hearts and minds. Many students and residents affected by the tornado have dealt with ongoing psychological and emotional injuries as physical wounds have healed. “The stress, the anxiety, a lot of grief and loss issues can culminate in affecting a person’s mental state,” said Larry Deavers of Tuscaloosa’s Family Counseling Service. Master’s student Jessica Trull said she had always been frightened of storms and was always certain she would die in one. She huddled in the bathroom of her University Village apartment on April 27, listening to the roaring of the twister and debris flying around. Though she escaped unharmed, she still calls it her “worst nightmare.” Trull can remember the weeks following that day vividly, when she spent time at her parents’ home to cope with the immensity of the situation. “I couldn’t sleep,” Trull said. “I stayed busy so I wouldn’t have to think about it or focus on it. My mom would try and help me, try to make me take Nyquil. But I didn’t want to go to sleep. I felt like I couldn’t help when I was asleep.” Though separated from Tuscaloosa, Trull sought solace in talking with others via the Internet.
“I turned to social networking,” said Trull, who used her blog to organize donations for victims. “I just tried to spread the word and just let people know. I didn’t feel so separated and alone because everyone else was talking about their experiences.” Holly Prewitt, a counselor at UA’s Counseling Center, said Trull isn’t alone with leaning on peers to cope. The Counseling Center hosts a weekly Tornado Recovery and Support group. “When they share their stories, it makes them feel like they weren’t the only ones that went through it,” Prewitt said. “Someone else understands exactly what happened to them. They are usually able to identify how their situations are similar.” Deavers said as time passes, the Family Counseling Service deals less with grief and more with stress relating to residual effects of the tornado. “What we’re seeing lately is people who are facing a new living situation, different than what they were living before,” he said. “There are some people who are still living in a hotel a year later. Those kinds of stressors can really drain a person’s emotional or mental resources.” Deavers said the Family Counseling Service treats clients who are dealing with crippling uncertainty. “Their living situations, their income [are] things they may have taken for granted prior to the tornado. But now it’s ‘Where am I going to be in
WHERE TO GET HELP • Family Counseling Service – firstname.lastname@example.org; (205) 752-2504 • UA Counseling Center – (205) 348-3863 a month?,’” he said. “People really get a sense of security by having stability in their life.” Though Trull’s apartment sustained minimal damage and she was physically safe, the psychological trauma she experienced is long lasting. Now she avoids situations that might trigger painful memories from that day. “It still terrifies me when I hear the sirens, even though I know it’s just a test,” she said. “The perfume I was wearing during that time – if I smell it now, I will start crying. The aftermath, when we came out of our buildings - why did nothing happen to me and and something happen to them? It’s hard to cope with those questions.” Deavers said the anniversary might be a time that people revisit those painful questions, depending on the person. “It really comes down to their own perspective or attitude about it,” he said. “Some people may very well say this is a milestone, we’ve survived a year. A lot of people there might have frustrations when they think that it’s been a year, and certain things haven’t been fixed.” For Trull, coping with the tornado means not contemplating the one-year anniversary.
“I don’t know how I’m going to feel in that moment,” she said. “Maybe overwhelming sadness, but that’s such a useless emotion to feel. I’ve really just been trying not to think about it.” Prewitt said many students are apprehensive about tornado commemorations, fearing flashbacks of painful memories. “I think clients see it as a milestone, that they’ve reached a year past the tornado,” she said. “But most plan to be with family and friends instead of being out in the community. That’s where they get their comfort. They don’t want to relive it. They want to think it as a year has gone by, and I’ve survived.” Deavers said people would naturally begin to reflect strongly on the memories they have coped with as the anniversary approaches. “Sometimes reflecting can be good, but sometimes, people can get so caught up in reflecting that it’s very depressing,” he said. “The key is to mentally acknowledge that you’ve survived a year, that things are different and will never be the same. Memorialize it for yourself, but don’t allow it to consume you.”
After the storm destroyed or damaged 5,300 homes and 350 businesses in 12 percent of the city, city officials created the Tuscaloosa Forward Strategic Community Plan to Renew and Rebuild. Meredith Lynch, the public relations coordinator for incident command of Tuscaloosa, explains that this plan was developed on the premise that through well-formulated planning, decision-making and community collaboration, Tuscaloosa can be an even stronger city. Since the tornado, the city has issued over 290 permits for repairs and new construction of commercial buildings and over 2280 permits for residential buildings. However, the Tuscaloosa Forward team has encountered several setbacks in their continued quest for recovery. Tuscaloosa’s Director of Planning and Development Services John McConnell found that pre-tornado zoning regulations, which control the overall pattern of development of properties, hindered quick rebuilding. Enacted in 1972, the old regulations were designed to produce a suburban pattern of land development similar to the University Mall, including spread out areas with large parking lots and landscaping. “In some cases, those very restrictive suburban rules that were established 40 years ago made it difficult to reconstruct some of the homes and businesses to their pre-tornado status in the impacted areas,” McConnell said. “Realizing that changes would be needed in order to help people get back on their feet, we worked diligently to draft and adopt new codes that were less restrictive.” These new commercial codes, which allow greater flexibility to property owners, were adopted on Jan. 17, eight months after the disaster. However, new residential codes are still being developed and are scheduled for adoption near the end of May. Ken Fridley, the department head of civil, construction and environmental engineering at the University, believes the new zoning will prove beneficial to the city. “It gives us the opportunity to step back and reform parts of town using modern innovations instead of working with what was in place many years ago,” he said. “It takes time, but from an engineering standpoint, it’s good to take things slow and make sure decisions are backed up with resilient structures. In the end, I think we will have a stronger community because of it.” Similarly time consuming, Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox and the city council elected to hire a consultant to revise old floodway maps after the April tornadoes. Tuscaloosa Storm Drainage Engineer Chad Christian explains that as a member of FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program, Tuscaloosa’s flood maps, which needed updating, restrict development within the flood-prone areas of the city.
“In most cases, this will result in reduced or eliminated floodways, which will unrestrict private property and allow more redevelopment versus the old maps,” Christian said. “The vast majority of affected landowners will benefit from increased developable area and reduced flood insurance premiums. The tradeoff, though, is that the map revision process is time-consuming and requires public notice and lengthy public comment periods.” Although the hired consultant finished his report that more accurately represents the floodplain conditions, city officials are still waiting on the review and approval of these revisions by FEMA. The owner of Krispy Kreme, which was located on McFarland Boulevard before the storm, encountered several problems regarding the old flood plain maps. After his business was blown away, Evan Smith discovered that the land it used to sit on was considered unreconstructable due to its location in a floodway. Smith hired an expert to assess his property, proving that the land was not actually located in a floodplain. The expert was consequently hired by the city to redraw the flood maps. Although the process lasted much longer than he expected, Smith broke ground on the construction to replace the destroyed doughnut shop on April 20. Smith realizes there is no reason to get angry for the delayed recovery. “At the end of the day, I wasn’t happy,” Smith said. “Every month, we thought we had jumped the last hurdle, but then there were still more to come. We jumped a bunch of hurdles, but I couldn’t be mad at any particular entity — not Walt Maddox, not the city council. There were too many issues to complain or point my finger at one person.” To fund the necessary procedures that accompany the rebuilding process, Tuscaloosa has been given a Community Development Block Grant for Disaster Recovery from the federal government. John Brook, incident commander for the city of Tuscaloosa, believes that without this federal help and the preparedness of city officials in maintaining reserve funds for difficult financial times, the city would have experienced serious challenges in the road to recovery. However, the city is continuing to search for other methods of financing the near $250 million in unmet needs and warns of not relying on a speedy recovery. “I think we all must understand that ‘recovery’ is not a measure of how fast you restore buildings to their prestorm state. When 12 percent of your city is destroyed, it is not just buildings that are gone; you lose community,” McConnell said. “A community is made up of much more than a group of buildings. A community is a complex human ecosystem that has collectively grown and connected over a lifetime. It is simply not something that can be replaced in a year or two.”
RECOVERY BY THE NUMBERS • 290 permits for repairs and construction of commercial buildings have been issued • 2280 permits for residential buildings have been issued • $250 million in unmet needs remain for city recovery
The Crimson White
Friday, April 27, 2012
Maddox, Witt discuss city’s past, future By Taylor Holland | News Editor
In the minutes and hours that immediately followed the April 27 tornadoes devastating path through Tuscaloosa, one city leader would become the public face of recovery efforts while the other worked tirelessly behind the scenes. Together, Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox and then-University of Alabama President Robert Witt faced unprecedented challenges from a disaster that would change the city and campus forever. CW | Megan Smith
University of Alabama System Chancellor Robert Witt and Mayor Walt Maddox met Monday morning to discuss the April 27 tornado. For Witt, the response began shortly after 5:30 p.m., even as the tornado continued on its path from Tuscaloosa to Birmingham. He met with the University’s Emergency Response Team and immediately made its police force available to the city. Knowing power companies and first responders would soon be heading to Tuscaloosa from across the country, Witt and the task force opened up BryantDenny Stadium and the Rec Center to house the respective groups. The school’s next move, however, came as a shock to many students. On April 28, the University sent out an email announcing the cancellation of classes and the postponement of graduation. “We realized that the University would be one of several sources of potential pressure on the city,” Witt said. “The need to restore power is a form of pressure, as are food and water. But also, the fact
that we had over 31,000 students here who, if they remained in the city given the extent of the damage, would become an additional burden for the city. So we closed the University, sent the students home and postponed graduation.” It would be Thursday morning, more than 12 hours after the storm, when Witt and Maddox first spoke. Although he was aware the campus had been spared, Maddox said he knew UA students had been impacted. During the call, Witt not only offered the services of the University of Alabama Police Department to the city, but also offered housing for the homeless as well. For the long term, the city drew from the University’s resources including logistical equipment and humanitarian assistance. “It was comforting to know that the University was there in such a powerful way for the city,” Maddox said. While the two city leaders
planned their next move, the University’s presence was felt more forcefully than either of them could have predicted. The help even extended to meals delivered by UA fraternities and sororities to Tuscaloosa residents displaced by the storm and rescue workers. Over a four-day period, the effort, which became known as UA Greek Relief, delivered more than 50,000 hot meals. “From my perspective, it was extraordinary,” Witt said. Maddox said he too was moved by the role students filled following the storm, particularly when he met a recent UA graduate who was living in Washington, D.C., and drove to Tuscaloosa within hours of the storm to volunteer. “Here’s someone who wasn’t born in Tuscaloosa, spent four years of his academic career here, and they felt such a closeness to the University, to the city, that they wanted to come back and help,” Maddox said. “At that point I realized the
Football restores normalcy The Alabama football team made numerous contributions in the recovery efforts of Tuscaloosa in the aftermath of the April 27 tornado. Immediately following the tornado, many of the football players volunteered throughout the community to help those affected by the storm. Marcell Dareus, a day after he was chosen as the third overall pick in the NFL Draft, visited Tuscaloosa to survey the city and make a donation. Brothers Harrison and Barrett Jones volunteered around the community in the immediate aftermath of the tornado alongside Brandon Gibson and John Fulton. Numerous other players made countless similar contributions in the months after the tornado. Alabama head coach Nick Saban and his wife Terry have also made many personal contributions, including getting involved in many community outreach programs, as well as helping through fundraisers and giving back through Nick’s Kids. But, perhaps one of the most significant contributions the Crimson Tide was able to make came almost eight months later, in January, when the football team beat the LSU Tigers 21-0 en route to win its 14th national championship and second under Nick Saban in three years. “There’s no question there’s still a lot of people that have a lot to overcome in terms of what they lost,” Saban said after the 2012 A-Day Game. “And our efforts continue to try to support those people. I think what our team accomplished, at least psychologically, probably benefited in a way that it made a lot of people happy.” After the national championship game, senior defensive lineman Josh Chapman said the team played with the express intent of winning for the city of Tuscaloosa. “It’s not just for us, it’s for the entire state, the organization and the city of Tuscaloosa,” Chapman said. “This is something for the people in Tuscaloosa to feed off of and hang their hats on.” Runningback Trent Richardson shared Chapman’s sentiments after the game. “A lot of people were affected by the tornado, and we just wanted to put the city on our back and let them know we cared,” Richardson said. Joshua McCoy, a Tuscaloosa native and a sophomore majoring in theater at Alabama, said he believes the football team has made a huge impact in the city by winning the national championship. McCoy lives in Windsong, a neighborhood the tornado spared. Still, McCoy said he knew people who were greatly affected
I think that as time goes on, every time there’s a football game, every time there’s a graduation, every time we have an A-Day, it brings us closer and closer to being normal.
By Zac Al-Khateeb Assistant Sports Editor email@example.com @ZacAlKhateeb
— Nick Saban
by the tornado, and has seen improvement from people as time has passed. McCoy said he believes the football team played a direct part in that improvement. “After the tornado, the city was at a loss,” McCoy said. “They didn’t have any direction, they weren’t sure where to go. It was just so much happening all at once. And for the football season being one of the biggest moments of the year for Tuscaloosa, it kind of brought everybody together, not just to celebrate the team, but to celebrate the fact that we’ve been through this, and we’re taking it, and we’re using it to make us stronger.” Mike Burger is one of those people. A resident of Skyland Park and former special education teacher at University Place Elementary School, Burger’s house was damaged during the April 15 tornado last year. He also saw the effects of the April 27 tornado when his former school was laid to waste. “The school that I worked at for 29 years, University Place Elementary School, was 60 percent destroyed by the tornado,” Burger said. “And, one of the tasks that the teachers had was to bring normalcy back to the students whose lives were disrupted.” Burger said amid all the recovery efforts Tuscaloosa is still going through, the fact that the football team won another championship meant a lot for him. “Oh, it’s just cool,” Burger said. “It brings back some normalcy. And I think that getting back to the football season and things going on here on campus, and the guys actually working out in the community is important and helped restore some normalcy to the community.” Saban said that only through time will the city completely recover. “I think that as time goes on, every time there’s a football game, every time there’s a graduation, every time we have an A-Day, it brings us closer and closer to being normal,” Saban said. “At least for how people approach their life.”
magnitude of the University and its response and recovery because every neighborhood I went into, every humanitarian station I visited, they were filled with University students giving in such a way that just struck me by the sheer intensity in numbers by which they were out there making a difference.” The ability of students to draw on their skills, especially with social media, helped them to significantly contribute in helping the city organize, Witt said. “You had, at one point, 1,400 people classified as missing, which, in most cases, should’ve created much more disruptions,” Maddox added. “But I think the fact that students were out there communicating via social media, letting people know that they were OK, finding their fellow students, in a large way, kept things calm.” Both the city and University capitalized on their social media presence as well, tweeting updates and needs to their
followers. Maddox held many press conferences to update the nation on the recovery process and warn city businesses of looters. Witt communicated by email, offering his sympathies to students and encouraging them to help those who suffered damage from the storm. The communication and support students provided in the immediate aftermath of the storm and ever since has gone a long way in helping to erase the natural tension felt between the citizens of Tuscaloosa and students, Maddox said. “In many neighborhoods where sometimes students probably were not considered a valuable asset in the community, it was those students who were the first one into the houses to make sure that everybody was OK,” Maddox said. “It was the students who were triaging and transporting the injured to the hospital. So, to me, those are powerful connections that have been made since April 27 that none of us are ever going to forget.” Beyond the indelible memories of this outpouring of support from students, local residents and the nation itself, Maddox said he hasn’t had much time for reflective thoughts since April 27. Getting the city’s long-term recovery plan known as Tuscaloosa Forward in place has taken priority. Still, he was quick to note than his personal affection and connection with the city has become even deeper. “It’s probably not the wisest administrative decision to become so close, but for me it is, it’s very personal,” Maddox said. “I’ve seen heartbreak on a scale that I never would’ve imagined and I feel the pressure and obligation to make sure that what happened to us was not some simple sacrifice; that there’s something better that will come out of this tragedy.” For Witt, the storm reminded him of the strength of the University of Alabama family. Within a relatively short period
of time, Witt said the University was able to raise more than $2.7 million because the family made the commitment that no faculty member, staff member, student or retiree who experienced loss as a result of the storm that exceeded their insurance would have to pay for it out of pocket. “We talked with people who had literally lost everything but the clothes that they were wearing,” Witt said. “And to see them made whole I think really reinforced the sense of the University of Alabama family.” Prior to the tornado, officials from both the city and University met every six to eight weeks. Moving forward, Witt said the two entities would continue working more closely than in years past. “As a result of the tornado, we began to realize that we were nowhere near our full potential in making the University of Alabama a resource for the city and for the mayor,” he said. “But now we realize that for our students, working with and for the city is a valuable learning experience, but it’s also a contribution to the city.” Witt said students’ efforts following the storm would be something he’d never forget. “While it’s very important that we remember the students that we lost, remember the impact on our community,” Witt said. “It’s also important to remember how the University of Alabama family responded to this crisis.” Maddox said he wanted to say thank you, first and foremost, to the students. “There is no way that the city can ever repay its debt to the service of the students after April 27, even leading up to today,” Maddox said. “It’s also important to remember that April 27 is not what’s going to define Tuscaloosa. It’s how we’re rebuilding, it’s how we’re going to recover, that’s going to define who we are and students are going to play an important role in establishing that legacy.”
Mother thanks University, friends, family By Darlene Harrison Dave and I, Ashley Harrison’s parents, wanted to send a message to the teachers, staff, employers, friends and families of the University of Alabama. We appreciate the outpouring of love, support, generous gifts and events that have been displayed since the death of our daughter, a UA senior and August 2011 posthumous graduate of the University, who died in the tornado on April 27, 2011. Ashley is our love and always our light! Her smile will forever be your beacon of light and reminder of her huge heart to the many who befriended and loved Ashley there in Tuscaloosa. We have been so blessed that her giving legacy continues from you through her scholarships. In Alabama, the scholarships are University of Alabama and Delta Sigma Pi and in Dallas, Ursuline Academy and Ashley Harrison Pet Fund in memory of Ms. B and Josey who died in the storm with her (pets of Ashley Harrison and Carson Tinker). We would appreciate the opportunity to share with you and the public and give thanks to the incredible efforts of the following people and organizations. In coordination with The Tide in Texas — Alabama Alumni in Texas, Erin Murphy, Clair, Michael S., C’ann, Stewart, Lauren, Abby, Scott and Charlie White, whom created an August graduation event, as well as several others for raising money for Ashley’s scholarships, which gave her fund a leaping start to becoming endowed. We also thank Theta Chi Fraternity and Alex Odem for giving Ashley, in loving memory, the honor of being their 2012 Dream Girl –aka Sweetheart. Thanks to Sigma Chi, Alex Dinges and Phil Claiborne for the incredible opportunity they made to join all philanthropic efforts of their Annual Sigma Chi Derby Days for The Ashley Harrison Memorial Scholarships, in coordination with Phi Mu’s Darbi Lou Todd and other Phi Mu Sisters of Ashley. To the entire group of fraternity and sororities of the University of Alabama who participated in the April 19-21 Derby Days dedicated to Ashley’s Scholarship: we thank you for your big hearts and giving
Darlene and David Harrison lost their daughter, Ashley (left), on April 27.
warrior spirit. With Ashley’s sweet but short life, kind and genuine love and hardworking desire to be the best she could be, her scholarships will keep Ashley’s gigantic spirit with us forever! Darbi Lou Todd, Keelin McMahon and many sisters at Phi Mu have dedicated the proceeds from the incredible cookbook, “Love in Our Kitchen,” towards the rebuilding of a torn home for a family in Alabama. They dedicated the book and utilized the recipes of Phi Mu sisters like Ashley and two other Phi Mu girls that passed away last year in car accidents. It was a tragic year for Phi Mu. Members of Sigma Chi also organized an April 18 barbeque benefiting Ashley’s scholarships, another shining example of compassion and courage. Ashley believed in The Love In Our Bond motto at Phi Mu. She loves Phi Mu and was so proud to be a member. To Carson Tinker, a survivor of the storm along with his roommate, Payton Holley: what love can we give to two such brave and courageous men. Carson, a UA senior and Alabama football player had to go through enormous healing of his own and contributed to a successful season and a BCS National Championship victory. Still, he has never stopped finding ways to cherish the memory of Ashley. From recovering from his own injuries, healing as he could from the loss of Ashley and their pups, he speaks at churches and business meetings, giving any proceeds from organization collections directly to Ashley’s Scholarships. He has coordinated that Ashley’s memorial bracelets be sold at The Shirt Shop in Tuscaloosa, created
a lifelong plaque that stands above the stadium locker of player #51 in loving memory of Ashley and coordinated with Nick Saban and The University of Alabama to do a 2011 BCS National Championship Print with the artist Steve Skipper – called “Through the Storm,” with proceeds of the sale of the print benefitting Ashley’s scholarships. Carson has an unending desire to keep the love and memory of Ashley alive, and we are forever grateful for his love! The home and debris field where Ashley died is a reminder of that tragic April 27 night but has become a beautiful memorial showing the world that the big giving heart, courageous spirit, ambitious mind, faithful soul and dynamic love of someone so little as Ashley is still with us in spirit and in all of our hearts daily. It helps us realize each day to live our life honorably to the fullest, creating enough beautiful memories that last a life time and beyond, touching someone’s heart and cherishing the precious gift of loving one another! We have no doubt, Ashley is so very proud of each and everyone of her friends for finding the courage to move on past this storm, remember the lives that were lost forever, find peace within themselves to grow. Know that she, as well as we, are so deeply thankful for all these generous hearts expressing their love and kindness to her memory. We thank you dearly, and may all the beautiful memories they have shared with us stay in their hearts forever. Never stop reaching out to us, for you fill our hearts each day with your love! Darlene Harrison is the mother of Ashley Harrison.
12 Friday, April 27, 2012
Pam Nero suffered a heart attack and a stroke in the following days, placing her in a wheelchair. The family’s name was passed along to Tuscaloosa Habitat for Humanity as a household in need of support. On April 27, Pam and John Nero kept their lives but lost their Alberta home. Now, on the anniversary of the devastation, they prepare to move into a new home thanks to the support that has come in many forms and from a variety of places. Much of this relief came from Tuscaloosa’s local musicians, who provided relief aimed to heal and bring together a wounded community. Through a partnership between Bo Hicks of Wellthatscool.com and Tuscaloosa Habitat for Humanity, the benefit show Tuscaloosa Get Up featured The Alabama Shakes, The Dexateens, Lee Bains III and The Glory Fires. It raised $20,000 for the Neros. “They were great, and we were so shocked to see all the people who came out to support us and help us,” Pam Nero said. Nero and her husband were in the front row of the Bama Theater for the March 23 show. The emotion of the event overwhelmed her. “I was breathless,” Nero said. “I was weak. I was crying, but they were tears of joy. I was just so thankful to find out that someone really cared.” Hicks said it was important
The Crimson White
Tornado victims healed by the arts By Nathan Proctor | Staff Reporter
Standing at 6-foot-11, 320 pounds was not enough to keep John Nero grounded. As his wife clung to him, roaring winds whipped his legs up from under him and the murky sky replaced their home’s roof as it flew away. His wife held her embrace as their house was torn apart around them. She held on until the piercing shriek of the winds had passed on down the road. “I walked out and it was like a warzone,” Pam Nero said. “We could hear people crying out for help and we couldn’t get to them. It was a bad feeling. It was an empty feeling. We felt helpless.”
My Morning Jacket
Rodney Lee Bains III Atkins and the Glory Fires
CW | Megan Smith
Musicians who played benefit concerts for Tuscaloosa to continue supporting the community even a year after the tornado. He believes music to be a powerful, unquantifiable, force to bring people together with a great potential to do good. “There was just something in the energy of that room that night,” Hicks said. “It was something that’ll probably never be replicated.” Now, as her home is reconstructed, Pam Nero said she is happy with the builders and volunteers who are working to build her a wheelchair ramp and letting her pick out colors for the home. She remains grateful to the workers and extends an offer of hospitality hoping to repay their generosity. “I’m still getting calls from
Top: John and Pam Nero walk along the porch of their Alberta home. Their home was built by Habitat for Humanity with money raised by music groups from across the state and the nation. Right: Pam Nero reads some of the writing left by the volunteers who helped build her new home. people asking to help us, and Left: The Neros’ new home in Alberta was built by Habitat for Humanity. all I can say is thank you,” Nero said. “I tell them, this is your Nero family. Patterson said the work and the construction Atkins, raising $818,000. home now, too. You remember strength of the Southern music of the Nero home, Patterson The Tuscaloosa Amphithat.” community, the bands and the expressed that the citywide theater also hosted a number Volunteer and project direc- location all added to the event’s destruction isn’t something of benefit concerts. Kenny tor for Tuscaloosa Habitat for success. that can be repaired in a mat- Chesney, Alabama, Pretty Humanity, Jared Patterson, has Construction on their new ter of weeks or a year. He said Lights and My Morning Jacket overseen the efforts of Habitat home began a week and a half it is a process that must not all played shows throughout and local volunteers that have before the show and brought slow down to get the commu- the year that raised money directly impacted more than 15 out 80 to 90 volunteers every nity back in order. He believes for tornado relief. Across families around the Tuscaloosa day in March, nearly twice the strength of benefits, such as Tuscaloosa, bars and venues area. Donated funds provided the normal number of volun- Tuscaloosa Get Up, are why the took part in the Roll Tide Relief newly constructed homes for teers on a build. Now, a year art will be a strong part of the Benefit Concert last June, some and exterior repairs or after the tornado, the house is city’s future. which included a variety of facelifts for others through nearly complete, and Patterson Other musical or artis- local musicians. their Brush With Kindness res- expects to dedicate the house in tic fundraising efforts have “Music and art have always toration initiative. the first week of May. been visible across the state been the greatest form of Patterson learned about the “In just a little over a year to since last April. Most notably expression,” Patterson said. Wellthatscool show after mov- go from their house to a brand Birmingham’s BJCC Arena “When you have great musiing in next door to Bo Hicks. new house across the street is hosted the Bama Rising benefit cians with such a strong followThey worked together on really something,” Patterson concert last June. The show ing — when they speak, people Tuscaloosa Get Up and decid- said. “It’s something beautiful.” featured country superstars tend to hear the message a lot ed to dedicate the show to the Though proud of Habitat’s such as Alabama and Rodney clearer.”
“Fast,” a sculpture by art instructor Craig Wedderspoon was carried from Hillcrest to the corner of Hackberry Lane and 15th Street during the tornado. A third of the piece was broken off, and portions of it have been found as far away as Georgia.
Art department suffered human loss during storm By Alex Cohen Senior Staff Reporter firstname.lastname@example.org Craig Wedderspoon’s sculpture, “Fast,” demanded 10,000 two-inch aluminum squares and almost 800 hours of work. Before April 27’s storms, the 3-D metal quilt rested in the yard of another art professor, Steve Miller. Minutes after the tornado had hit Miller’s home, “Fast” had taken flight, landing a mile away on McFarland. It was altered and bent. The UA art department, a close group of less than 30 faculty members and just over 200 undergraduates, was changed by the storm. They lost homes, works and friends. Art instructor Tom Wegrzynowski didn’t recognize the shape in his window on April 27, 2011. As the dark mass consumed the sky, Wegrzynowski doubled back, joining his wife and two children in the hallway. This was routine—just another Alabama tornado. Then the noise came. “It was like a freight train,
growing louder and louder and louder,” said Wegrzynowski, an instructor of art at the University. “I knew we were going to get hit.” A sudden change in pressure caused their ears to pop as 60-year-old pine trees, uprooted from the front yard, tore through the house. The pressure equalized, fresh pinesap filled their nostrils, and it was gone. On the edge of the storm’s path, most Arcadia residents were relatively lucky. Steve Miller was on ground floor of Gorgas Library, ready to ride out the storm. “But, suddenly, this one felt really bad, really unsettling,” Miller said, UA professor and coordinator of the MFA book arts program. He had to get home. After driving to his house on Hillcrest, Miller and two friends hustled to the basement, hitting the ground seconds before the noise found them. Minutes later, they dug through dirt, glass and nails, emerging from the basement to an unrecogniz-
able landscape. “Nothing in all directions,” Miller said. “Like a nuclear blast.” Both art professors lost more than their homes that afternoon. Their student and friend, Morgan Sigler, died in the storm. A senior majoring in graphic design, Sigler stood out in her classes. “Sculpture is a communitybased activity; so, when one of our own gets taken away, it leaves a big hole,” Craig Wedderspoon, Sigler’s sculpture professor, said. There’s no question that these teachers and many others have had to cope. But, thankfully, they haven’t been alone. Wedderspoon, Sigler’s sculpture professor, helped salvage
the remains of his colleague’s home in Hillcrest and his sculpture students, equipped with chainsaws, helped clear debris in Arcadia. Wegrzynowski still paints, Wedderspoon still bends iron and clay, and Miller still sews books and presses prints. In fact, despite only recovering one torn page of a 365-page work in the wreckage, Miller saw beauty, using the page to form a print called “Tornado Leaf.” “Things started to clarify: My friends were all still there, and the program I love was still there.” Miller said. “Now, I’m attacking new projects.” The transition has been harder for some. “So many people lost so
much; so many needed help, and here I am trying to make art,” Wedderspoon said. “I felt like an ass going back to work.” In their returns to normalcy, all three professors have felt touched by Sigler. Wegrzynowski had kept one of her practice sketches for over a year before her death. He’s since had the opportunity to return the piece to her family. While cleaning Sigler’s workstation in the studio, Wedderspoon and his students found horsehair, which Sigler had intended to use to imprint textures on her pottery. Inspired, her friends and classmates molded their own pieces with her material, presenting the finished works to
her family. Even Miller, who never taught Sigler, feels a connection through his friendship with Wedderspoon and his fascination with “Fast.” “The piece changed during its flight,” Miller said. “It became connected to Morgan in a certain way.” Wedderspoon believes that “Fast,” broken after its flight, is a brutal reminder of the destruction—the destruction the Sigler family experienced on a profound level. But despite the wear, “Fast” is also a testament to integrity. Like the UA art department and the Tuscaloosa community, it was engulfed by a storm. Its strength was tested. And it’s still here, one year later.
Published on Apr 27, 2012
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