A natural disaster is defined as a natural event such as a flood, earthquake, or hurricane that causes great damage or loss of life. On the day of April 27, 2011, this was the word that was used to describe the horrific event that happened in Tuscaloosa, Al. The tornado formed at 4:43 pm local time just west-southwest of Tuscaloosa and it dissipated at 6:14 pm local time northeast of Birmingham, Alabama. This tornado was on the ground for 80.3 miles and was 1.5 miles wide (Okcstormwatcher, 1).
This will be a day that will be remembered in Alabama’s history forever. It was approximately 5:13 p.m and there it was, the tornado touched down and many lives were changed forever. When this EF-4 tornado approached Tuscaloosa, it came with wind speeds of 194 mph. Sirens were going off, and James Spann warned everyone of the tornado that was soon approaching this city. When it did hit, it ripped through several homes and businesses and it was very destructive.
There were approximately 62 fatalities and there over 1500 people were injured. Over 1,200 people were treated at DCH Regional Medical Center the night of the storm (Pow 1). This was not from lack of communication or because we were not prepared. According to the weather service, the average lead time for warnings in Alabama was 22 minutes. The National Weather Service target time is 15 minutes. (Morgan 1). The outcome of the damage to the city was due to the strength of the tornado that occurred that day. It was a rough day for the state of Alabama because these tornadoes were not anything that you could look over.
According to the weather service, of the 62 tornadoes that touched down in Alabama on April 27 eight were EF4s and three were EF5s, the most powerful on the Enhanced Fujita Scale (Morgan 1). After looking at the numbers and statistics from this powerful storm there were 5,362 residential structures were affected by the storm. 2,493 were damaged, 1,612 were severely damaged and 1,257 were destroyed (Pow 1). 12 percent of the city was destroyed. In six minutes, 7,000 people became unemployed (Pow 1). 356 commercial structures were affected by the storm. 178 were damaged, 64 were severely damaged and 114 were destroyed from this storm (Pow 1). After looking at all of the damage done it was said that it was almost 2 billion dollars’ worth that destroyed the city. It would take years to get Tuscaloosa back to how it was. Tuscaloosa would never be the same after this day, but the city, volunteers, and the governor worked very hard to get it back to how it was. There were so many people who lost their homes, lives, family members, jobs, and these were some of the things that mean the most to someone.
After the tornado hit there were many who arrived at the scene to respond to what happened. There were firefighters, policeman, the national guard, ambulances, volunteers, churches, and many agencies that came to respond to this tragic incident. The Alabama Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, The University of Alabama students and athletes, other Universities across the country, and many more came to help rebuild the city together. Big names companies such as Mercedes Benz sent money, food, and rebuilt houses to help their workers and the community. All of these agencies, volunteers, emergency task forces and others did not limit themselves or their efforts to assist those who were in need. They supplied housing in local shelters, made sure that families were being fed, provided clothing, and ensured their safety. The campus of the University of Alabama posted on the website various acts of things that they provided after the tornado. UA Acts of Kindness Fund and Information on Giving/Volunteering. Group Therapy for Victims — Managed Health Care Administration (MHCA), which provides the network service for both EPS/EPL and Blue Choice Behavioral Health (EPF) was one of many things offered. The Human Resources — The HR Service Center serves as a central point of contact for employees who have lost insurance cards, flexible spending account cards, recently filled medical prescriptions, glasses or contacts or who need information about insurance, obtaining a loan, or other human resources services (The University of Alabama 1). Information on where to find assistance, more counseling services, information on the road construction and locations on where it was drivable, and housing were all offered to the those who did not have anything, They provided a very thorough description of numbers and ways to get in contact with the agencies that were around because at a time like this it is very easy to feel hopeless and does not know where to seek help. This support helped the city greatly, and without these efforts there would not have been as much progress as it was.
The impact of this natural disaster affected an entire community. There were incidents and reports of tornadoes that were in surrounding cities and it was only a matter of time before in came to Tuscaloosa. There was a very slow build up because everyone was expecting bad weather for several days. Once it came, the city of Tuscaloosa was able to say that they were apart of a crisis. This was a large-scale crisis because it affected our entire community and regions around us both directly and vicariously. There was not much lack of preparation or communication that happened for this tornado. The national weather service as listed above was said to have sent out various warning signs in a timely manner for the community to prepare for what was about to come. I know that this impact may have been a lot not only on those who were victims, but also those who were helping the victims. I was not able to find any examples of debriefing for workers and volunteers, yet I know that this would have been needed. It was very hard for some to see the community first hand, but it could have been even harder for those to see it on social media websites, televisions, blogs, and elsewhere to know that this could happen to them at any given moment. There were not many negative effects that media had on this natural disaster, but I do know that the efforts of using social media for the betterment of these cases were valid.
There were not many cultural issues that were addressed when reports of the tornado came out. There was one that was referred to and that was the unemployment percentages that decreased drastically after the tornado. I do know that this tornado hit areas where low-income families resided. Rosedale, 15th street, Holt, and Alberta were considered to be “roughest” areas in the Tuscaloosa. Schooling, buildings, and homes were not considered the best places to attend or to live. Since Tuscaloosa is a big college town, it was very easy to overlook that the fact that these towns were very povershed before the tornado came. I wish these areas got more recognition, but there was better housing and better schooling that came resulted from this tornado.
There were man tornadoes that were affecting numerous parts of Alabama before reaching Tuscaloosa. These tornadoes also resulted in deaths, and the many officials knew that there were more to come. Once these issues became prevalent, Governor Bentley, he had issued the State of Emergency, activated the State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC) in Clanton to the highest level, and ordered the Alabama National Guard and other state response agencies to duty (Faulkner 1). Due to the magnitude of the damage across the state, assessments had to be conducted by air. The Governor requested federal assistance for individuals in 43 counties and to public entities in all 67 counties after aerial damage assessments revealed the devastation to many communities (Faulkner 1). Governor Bently was a part of a press conference in Birmingham when he stated “the long road to recovery will now begin.
‘We’ve gotten past the rescue stage,’ Bentley said. ‘We have begun the recovery stage’ (CNN Wire Staff). This was only two days prior when the governor said this, after the stage of emergency was announced, a few day later Tuscaloosa received a visit from President Barack Obama and his first lady Michelle Obama. To have received this visit from them, members for this community were greatly influenced and our president and first lady were able to see the damage first hand. Reporters who were with them stated, “In Tuscaloosa, Obama’s motorcade passed street after street of homes reduced to splinters, crushed and flipped cars, and widespread debris on the way to his first stop to visit with families affected by the storms that pounded the region Wednesday and Thursday (Faulkner 1). In an interview with the president, he stated “’I’ve gotta say I’ve never seen devastation like this” (Faulkner 1). To hear these words from our president you know that this was something that was very awful for our community and surrounding cities. The president stepped in and issued a federal state of emergency for the state of Alabama and others. Reporters said, “Obama had signed a disaster declaration for Alabama, which enables storm victims and damaged businesses in eight counties to seek federal aid” (Faulkner 1). Mayor William bell of Birmigham, Al told a CNN affiliate of WBMA, “Such aid will be critical.” ‘It’s beyond our local resources so we’re going to have to get the federal government involved,’ Bell said. ‘The president assured us that he would do that.’ Once the president stepped in, this differentiated the state emergency and the federal emergency that was set out. State emergencies rely heavily upon state officials such as the mayor and governor to find the relief systems to get their state back to where it needs to be. When a federal emergency is issued, this takes some of those duties of state officials and the president becomes the primary source to help finically and to give support where it is needed. These two duties can coincide with one another because these are both efforts to help get the best quality care. Day in a day out everyone worked very hard to get not on Tuscaloosa but the surrounding counties back up to par. These efforts are shown today.
There were many articles that were posted following the tornado that happened on April 27, 2017. There were some that came a few days later, a few weeks later, and few months later, and of course there some that came years later. In article that came six months after the tornado is stated that since that time, citizens, officials, work crews and volunteers from across the country have worked in an effort to help the city recover. FEMA grants and SBA loans in Tuscaloosa County have totaled nearly $40 million (Pow 1). This article talked about the many achievements that came, and Residents who saw their houses and apartments destroyed have moved and begun plans to rebuild. Schools damaged in the storm found room in other facilities to begin a new school year (Pow 1). Another big improvement occurred once The City Council developed and approved the Tuscaloosa Forward strategic rebuilding plan for the city and is working with a firm to write new building codes and zoning regulations for affected areas. Council members are also making decisions on storm-damaged structures that will be condemned and demolished (Pow 1). Five years later, there was a very detailed plan that was followed, and you can see many improvements. Homes, roads, schools, businesses, shopping outlets, hotels, and restaurants, were just some of the many additions that were added to this city. The lesser communities that I recognized earlier in my paper began to receive more the attention that was needed for them to succeed and make their community better. It was said that these changes are more visible to the average resident or person traveling through the city. Similarly, drastic changes occurred in other lesser-seen parts of the community like Alberta City and Rosedale Courts, residential areas in serious need of a makeover. Those, too, have undergone significant changes to improve the living standards of the citizens most affected by the damage (Flannigan 1). Mayor Walt Maddox stated in an interview, ‘I think it’s vastly improved on multiple levels,’ on the overall look and feel of his city. ‘I think it’s important to go back and add some context to why we made many different changes and recommendations coming out of April 27th.’ (Flannigan 1). To continue to see this grow, Alabama came up with a strategic plan that they would follow to make the corrections for this city. The ‘Tuscaloosa Forward Strategic Community Plan’ was a collaborative project created by citizens and the City of Tuscaloosa to guide recovery after the April 27, 2011 tornado, endorsed by the City Council on Aug. 22, 2011. It was designed to establish a framework that the city government, the private sector, and the public can work from to achieve a common vision of recovery (Flannigan 1). The plan ‘defines several ‘big ideas’ for rebuilding a stronger, healthier, better-connected, and more efficient Tuscaloosa,’ according to the BNIM website. ‘It also includes an implementation plan that has detailed information about how to accomplish the strategic initiatives including the next steps, timing, and resources required.’ (Flannigan 1). Aside from community building there are also many efforts from weather officials to improve the knowledge of the certain weather patterns so they can know what is to come. Five years later, weather technology has improved. There are also ongoing efforts to learn more about tornadoes, such as the Vortex Southeast study taking place this spring. Based at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, it’s bringing together the nation’s top tornado researchers (Flannigan 1). Technological advances have been improved everyday and there has been a lot of research that has been done thus far. It continues to get better, and weather officials have gained a lot of information in the five years since. They have worked to get power companies to be more sufficient with power outages, and emergency responses have worked to come quicker to the scene. Improvement after a crisis and tragedy as this is great to see. It is very important to have, and I know that those around me are grateful for these investments people have put into helping this city overcome.
Personally, this tornado was one that weighed heavy on my heart for a very long time. I have lived in Tuscaloosa since I was two years old and this is my home. I remember sitting in my tub listening to the seriousness in his voice as he told everyone to take cover. I remember hearing the sirens and thinking that my house and family could be hit. I remember following the tornado and listening to him say that it was heading toward my close family’s home and crying because I knew it was very close to them. I remember not being able to get in touch with them and knowing whether they were safe or not. I remember watching the news for the next few days seeing all of the damage that was done. I remember going back to school to some classmates that lost everything including their family members. I remember driving through my hometown and seeing everything destroyed. Although this did not hit my home directly and I did not lose any family members, I could feel the devastation and sadness that went throughout my city. Doing this research paper has definitely opened my eyes to some factors and things that I did not understand before reading. Knowing the many services offered, knowing the difference between a state emergency and a federal emergency, knowing the effects that it had on others in the community, and knowing the technological advances that weather officials are putting in place has given me much knowledge to what goes into natural disasters. It was very sad to bring these memories back as I was doing the research for this paper, but I am grateful to see the growth. I am grateful to not only have read about the growth of this city, but to also see it personally as I come home on the weekends. This process of the research was not a difficult one, it was actually very compelling, and I enjoyed writing about the beautiful city of Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Roll Tide!