Four months ago, I was back home in Missouri, spending New Years Eve weekend with some friends in St. Louis. There were sirens blaring and a voice on the radio was talking about tornado warnings in the area. Apparently a tornado had been spotted on the ground just outside the city.
My friend Ben and I were driving to lunch.
If you grow up with tornados, you get used to them. Storms come and go, weather reports issue tornado watches and warnings, and you deal with it. You seek shelter if you need it — I can remember twice rushing for a basement — but if you’re not believed to be in the path of the tornado, you can pretty much go about your day. It’s a big, windy storm.
What happened in Alabama and Georgia on Wednesday was beyond anything anyone gets used to. I’ve been around tornados, I’ve seen tornado damage, but I can’t wrap my head around a tornado this size, staying on the ground this long, tearing through the middle of a town. Reports say well over 200 have died.
Robertson grew up just outside Tuscaloosa, just a few miles from the devastation. His family still lives there, and after repeated attempts to reach his parents on Wednesdsay night, Robertson finally got in touch with his brother who told him everyone was fine. His best friend’s house was OK, despite being pretty close to the path of destruction. Robertson said he doesn’t know of anyone he knows being killed, but he’s worried he’ll hear about one eventually.
He’s instantly familiar with 15th street in Tuscaloosa, but he couldn’t recognize it when he saw footage on the news.
“It’s happened before,” Robertson said. “We had one in ’98 that was massive and only killed – I say only – but it killed nine people. You could see the trail it left when it went through the woods and stuff. This one, it hit the town. There’s businesses and houses all around there. It’s really sad because I haven’t been down there to see it so I don’t know how bad the damage is. I just know I couldn’t recognize anything when I was watching the videos.”
Associated Press photo of Tuscaloosa