Personal Update Following Tornado

One of our family jokes for a few decades has been that when our son, Stuart, came home for Christmas break after his first semester at Texas A&M we discovered he was particularly proficient with a pool cue and a chain saw. The latter came from the practice in those days of the freshmen cutting the trees for the giant pre-Texas bonfire.

In the aftermath of the tornado that struck Tuscaloosa Wednesday, Stuart's chainsaw ability and his ability to operate his farm tractor with a front end loader have served us well.

Those of you with television likely know more about the overall situation in Tuscaloosa than we do. We have seen about 20 minutes of television news. We have been in a few neighborhoods. The tragedy we have seen is beyond belief. It would seem that the current death toll of 40 must be a small fraction of what will be the final total. On the South side of the river there appear to be more homes in ruin than there are homes that are habitable. The Alberta City area is all but obliterated.

I feel almost guilty to have suffered so little damage--some trees down, minor roof damage, a fence destroyed, and being without power since the storm. We had 26 large oak trees before Wednesday. Now we have 23. But those that were uprooted (leaving craters four- to six-feet deep and 20- 30-feet in circumference) were not behind our house. They missed (other than grazing the corner of the roof). If the two directly behind our house, perhaps 50 feet from those that did fall, had been uprooted, our house would have been destroyed.

But it wasn't.

We cleaned up our immediate problems Saturday with the help of some wonderful people, the Whitmans. As we worked we had one of those "small world" events. Jonathan (an attorney) and his sister had been Latin students of my mother at Tuscaloosa Central. His wife had worked in the Birmingham law office of my son-in-law. Their father, Dr. Joel Whitman, who had been head of the audio-visual program at The University of Alabama, had worked with me on Bryant-Denny and Coleman Coliseum sound systems when I was sports information director.

After we had done all we could at our home, it was on to help others as best we could. In some areas the task is almost so great that one doesn't know where to begin.

Incredibly, there is so much neighbor-helping-neighbor that we went to several homes where we weren't needed; there was already plenty of assistance.

We do a lot of crying at what we see. Who could not be moved to see a pick-up truck of an elderly African-American couple with a small trailer on the back carrying mattress, a few chairs, and boxes headed out of town. We saw a young couple walking through our neighborhood pushing a baby carriage and carrying two suitcases. There are a reported 10,000 homes gone. Where are these people going to live?

My sister, Linda, and her husband came down from Birmingham with some supplies for us, but they couldn't get into our neighborhood and we couldn't get out. They left them for us at our office, and we were very grateful.

We talked to Crimson Tide Athletics Director Mal Moore and we know that many members of the Alabama athletics department--athletes, coaches and administrators--have been out volunteering. We also heard second hand that all athletes had been reported as safe.

We have never seen the like of the power company work crews that have descended on Tuscaloosa. In our neighborhood perhaps 50 large trucks and crews from Georgia Power and Pike in North Carolina (we think) have gone as hard as they can go with an efficient plan in putting up new poles and transformers and wire. (To a man they have said they have never seen anything like Tuscaloosa, even when working in hurricane disasters.)

National Guard soldiers are helping an overworked Tuscaloosa Police Department and Tuscaloosa County Sheriff's Department (and volunteer law enforcement from other areas). I was able to get out of the neighborhood briefly Sunday morning to get ice. As I made my way back I saw one of those small utility vehicles, something like an over-sized golf cart. It belonged to the ABC board – Alcohol Beverage Control. Were they worried someone was selling alcohol Sunday morning? was my first thought. Then I realized the police precinct station had been destroyed and an ABC trailer was serving as the police headquarters.

We had not been able to get to the office on Saturday or Sunday to report the baseball series at Mississippi State. Alabama won a doubleheader Saturday and lost a game Sunday. It is going to be a little difficult for us to cover much for the next few days, but we suspect it will improve by degrees.

We made it into our office in downtown Tuscaloosa this morning late. It is slow going until one gets to Jack Warner Parkway or Interstate 20-59. Downtown was spared, as was (we are told) the campus of The University.

North of the Black Warrior River was not affected. On Friday morning I went to the golf club for a hot shower and a shave. It was a beautiful day and a few were playing golf.

That was my last hot shower. Army training helps in many ways. Although it has been nearly 40 years since I was in the Army, I can still take a cold shower (quickly!) and shave with cold water if I have to.

We have received many, many calls and texts and e-mails (cell phone service has been spotty and we have had no internet capability from home) regarding our well being, and we are grateful for the concern. As I have said, our problems are those of inconvenience, minscule in the scheme of Tuscaloosa disaster.

And we received one call from someone who had failed to receive the May 'BAMA magazine in the mail. I'll try to get to that.

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