This morning I drove back to Birmingham from Atlanta through sheets of pouring rain. I was clutching the wheel and praying that there'd be a break in the storm soon. I hate driving in the rain and the feeling that, at any moment, my car could go out of my control. But I kept driving, wanting to get home.
I tuned in to a Birmingham radio station via my iPhone (thank you Stitcher) to get news from the tornadoes, which I learned about when I woke up in Atlanta. I had sat in bed, gleaning early reports of the damage and accounting for friends who lived in the affected areas.
Last year, on April 27 was the first time I was ever truly afraid of weather. When weatherman James Spann said, "If you have helmets you might want to put them on you and your family." I strapped my son's Toy Story helmet on him and wished we'd had a basement. A deadly tornado was miles across town, and we watched the reports, feeling powerlessness. Not a branch fell on our street. Before long, the skies were blue.
But the storms decimated parts of the Southeast. Along with my colleagues, I traveled to several of these communities to report for a story (this story was published in the August issue, with a multimedia piece ). Everywhere we went the images were the same: homes reduced to piles of rubble, parts of children's toys and broken picture frames mixed in with heaps of metal. Massive brick structures scattered; cars crumpled.
And, always, not too far away from these scenes: churches, volunteers and neighbors helping each other. It went on and on long after the national news crews left. It goes on today.
I thought about that today, nine months after the storms of April 27. The torrential rains slowed and then stopped and, sure enough, the skies turned from grey to bright blue over I-20. It was a lovely, unseasonably warm January day.
If you hadn't read the reports of the devastation across town, you wouldn't know that there were people without homes in places like Clay and Center Point. And that volunteers were being mobilized, meals were being prepared, and people were saying, "What can I do to help?"
The outreach of neighbors will go on long after the 30 second sound bites on the nightly news goes away. And the resilience of the people who were directly affected will be astonishing.
This is what I know now that I didn't fully understand on April 27 of last year. I know right now there are many Alabamians suffering, but many more saying, "What can I do to help." I know that people will rise to the occasion, and that there's power in that.
Video of a man who lost home in April 27 storms; new home damaged by today's storms (al.com):
Share your story of the 4.27.11 tornadoes and a local company will donate $25 to Christan Service Mission tornado recovery efforts. For more information, visit Alabama Disaster Relief Blogging Program