“You are not going out with that boy unless his parents are driving and that's that. I'm not just Spitting Grits here, young lady!”

. . . My father, John Thomas Cravey, USAF, to me in 1956.

Tuscaloosa, Alabama: Shocking Vistas

So, what’s next for our city ravaged by the April 27, 2011, Mutant Tornado.

That’s easy: Disaster relief, disaster relief, disaster relief.

Once the National Guard began to open up the hardest hit areas of the city, I went to sites to shoot video; I wasn’t sure why at the time. Now I think it was for two reasons: catharsis and the need to appeal – for some time to come – for disaster relief.

I interviewed several survivors along Crescent Ridge Road and Holt, arguably the hardest hit. Until I went to shoot video, and even though I had been using that road for decades, I had no idea the reason for the name of the road. Almost immediately, the question was answered. Once the Mutant Tornado went through and took almost everything, shocking vistas opened up.

I was standing on a ridge. From that ridge I could see for miles and miles, southwest over devastated Alberta City toward town until the hospital and football stadium finally blocked the view; and northeast all the way over Brookwood to Jim Walter Mine #7, according to one survivor, 35 miles away, until the next ridge blocked the view.

Christmas Future

Tuscaloosa will need all the help it can get for the long haul. The amount of debris, closely equivalent to the amount of debris left at the site of the World Trade Center after the 9/11 terrorist attack, tells the story. (See the previous post.)

The 5,000 – 7,000 damaged or destroyed structures in the city tell the story. Many, many people are in dire need of the most fundamental supplies – food, shelter, clothes, school supplies, children’s toys, hygiene products – name it.

This need for the most basic supplies will continue well into the future. The clean-up is likely to take a year. Who knows how and when structures and housing will be rebuilt.

Too soon the need will be for Christmas presents for Tuscaloosa’s displaced children.

The Odor

Finally, it was the odor, the stench, on the ridge that drove home to me the extent of the devastation. As far as I know, by the time I shot video (about five days after the tornado), all the human bodies had been found and retrieved, but there could easily have been remains of people whom no one knew to report as missing. The odor was certainly the animals and pets that were killed and covered up by debris.

It was not rotting food. Rotting food alone (which I admit I’ve had in my refrigerator from time to time) does not smell like that. It was bodies.

Hints

When I turned onto Crescent Ridge, the scene only hinted at what was to come: broken tree limbs, trees with too few leaves, entire oak trees that have been sawed and piled on the side of the road, twisted road signs, mail boxes in yards, homes with odd lettering and numbering spray-painted on the front, huge root balls of trees sucked up from the ground. Then damaged structures and blue tarps.

Survivors tell their stories about the April 27, 2011 Tuscaloosa tornado

Then the shocking vistas where people and their lives had been. Then some survivors -- the few who were able to stay in their damaged homes or a small number of people standing dazed on what used to be their property.

Then I met one man, who pointed out Jim Walter Mine #7 in the far distance, some family members, and a mother dog with about five puppies; they are living under an open-type tent and in his storm shelter, about 12-feet below ground, which saved their lives. There was nothing left on the cement slab that was his front porch, living room, and house. They were cooking on a grill.

For some distance, there was a strange stillness up there, broken only by birds’ chirpings and songs. Then As I neared the area of a direct hit, I began to hear all the heavy equipment working to bulldoze or pick up debris into piles of like materials. Cars and trucks, drain gutters, bikes and other metal stuff in a pile. Tires and man-made materials in piles. Pieces of wood and housing materials in a pile. Huge tree trunks and large branches in a pile. Root balls in a pile. Unidentifiable stuff in piles. Ice cream and popsicle trucks. Toys. What was left of swimming pools, filled with trees and belongings. Lone cement stair steps leading to nothing.

I saw this for miles until the scene became countryside with an odd wide path cut out where whole forests had been standing five days before.

Finally the remains of my favorite gardening nursery. And then Holt Elementary School. All gone.

Disaster Relief

Tuscaloosa will need all the help it can get for the long haul. And frankly, the best, most needed, donation is good ole MONEY. Following are some agencies, churches, and places where donations and money can be made, and there are many more besides these.

Agencies and Organizations

The United Way of West Alabama disaster donations

The Salvation Army of Tuscaloosa, and here, disaster relief; 1-800-SAL-ARMY

The Red Cross of Tuscaloosa, Disaster Online Newsroom; 1-800-REDCROSS

Tuscaloosa Disaster Relief Fund

Tuscaloosa Emergency Services, 205-758-5535

Samaritan’s Purse

West Alabama Chamber Foundation, which you can donate to through Joe Namath’s “Broadway Joe” site.

Aid for Tuscaloosa’s three elementary schools destroyed by the tornado

Catholic Social Services Tuscaloosa, 205-759-0168

Churches

St. Mark United Methodist Church, 2605 Skyland Blvd. E., 205-553-4929

Hargrove Road Memorial United Methodist Church, 1812 Hargrove Rd. E., 205-553-7271

Woodland Forrest Baptist Church, 6701 Hargrove Rd. E., 205-553-1494

Church of the Nazarene, Hillcrest, 340 Patriot Pkwy., 205-758-3297

I will post these disaster relief agencies and sites on and off on Spittin’ Grits for months to come. It’s what I can do for my city.

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