I write with a heavy heart today. Yesterday, I went to visit my mother and saw the horror that was left behind from the EF 3 tornado that tore through Jefferson County last Monday. I was driving along and it was literally like someone had drawn a line in the road and everything on one side was as it normally is, and everything on the other side looks like the end of the world.
As I drove down a road so familiar that I’ve literally passed through it hundreds of times in my life, I began to feel lost and disoriented. Landmarks are gone. What’s left of the neighborhoods I used to trick or treat in, or houses whose families had children I used to play with, are smashed to pieces and scattered in the streets and down the sides of the hills. You can see multiple neighborhoods and subdivisions all at once, throwing off your sense of direction, because literally every single tree that was in the path of the tornado was ripped from the ground or smashed into someone’s home. Huge trees that have been living for over a hundred years, with root systems bigger than a Hummer and at least 13 feet deep, have been torn from the earth and flung into cars, houses, and streets. Power poles and lines are down everywhere. I passed one subdivision where every house I could see was either missing the entire roof or the roof was covered in multiple, bright blue tarps, which is pretty much the only color you can see in the sea of browns and grays of upturned houses, bricks, boards, branches, and trees.
In my head, I imagine a hoard of giants so tall that you can’t see their faces in the clouds, their huge feet trampling this place I knew like the back of my hand. Houses are being crushed, trees kicked over, cars tossed on their sides. All that’s left when the giants pass through is piles of two-by-fours that used to be homes.
As I drove across this line, into what felt like Armageddon, I became overwhelmed with emotion. I put my hand over my mouth and tears started running down my cheeks. People are everywhere, in the streets, climbing in the rubble, and trying to salvage what they can from their houses. How are they not all dead? How did they survive this? They must have stories, fear, and sorrow inside them that there isn’t any time to deal with right now.
I heard horrible stories of people who were injured and trapped in their homes. There was one house, if you can even call it a house because all that I could see from the yard was the roof, sitting caddy-corner on the foundation. The entire first story of the house had been blown out from under it and was sliding backward down the hill. It took rescue teams 4 passes through the house before they found the old lady with a broken back. My little sister knows a boy from school who is in the hospital with a concussion from beams falling on him. I heard a story of one boy, whose family ran down the stairs into the basement, and as he was going to close the basement door, was blown backward, breaking both his ankles so that bones were protruding from the skin. These and many others waited and suffered until the roads could be cleared for the ambulances.
My mother described the sound of the tornado to me, and as most people say, she described the sound of a train as if it were passing through right in the front yard. Even more terrible, she told me, were the sounds afterward. My mother and my sister wandered out into the street, as did everyone else, in their pajamas, and started walking. The sounds of dogs crying and people yelling filled the air. Shortly after, you could hear the chain saws starting up. What to do? Certainly there were a million things to be done. How to help? I can’t imagine the reactions of the first responders on the scene. My mother tells me that Alabama Power reacted immediately, cutting massive trees to clear the roadways for emergency vehicles. Neighbors that hardly ever spoke to one another were rushing to see if people were okay and helping to dig each other out of their collapsed houses. My sister told me that for the next few days, cars and people were everywhere, showing up to do anything they can to help. People are still showing up a week later and will be for some time. It seems like it will take years to clean everything up.
And suddenly it doesn’t matter what you were annoyed at your neighbor for, if they let their dog do its business in your yard or if they support an opposing football team. All that matters is compassion, and it’s abundant, as it should always be.
I will spend the first full week in February fasting and praying for the people who were affected by the tornado. I’m following what most people refer to as the “Daniel Fast” (no dairy, bread/yeast, sweeteners of any kind, caffeine, fried food, processed/refined foods). Fast recipes (that are good anytime) to come!