“The foreseeable future equals today with open eyes,
and whenever I am blessed to awake and see the sunrise.
Nothing more and nothing less, just to be kissed with mere presence.” – Janece Maze
Embracing my sister on a lone slab of concrete remaining in my apartment community one week after the Alabama tornado outbreak on April 27, 2011. Photo credit: Michelle L. Carter of The Tuscaloosa News
I attempted to contact my family members and friends to make sure that everyone was ok. However, my phone would not dial out to complete a call. Soon someone in the parking lot area of Starbucks received a call that came through stating that another tornado was coming. We all ran over to Longhorn in the shopping center to seek additional cover because Starbucks was already damaged from the first one. People began pouring inside for cover and a handful came with sad news of loves ones who were killed by the tornado in the same places they fled. We sat in the freezer area of the restaurant for about 30 minutes and next were informed that we would have to leave because there were several gas leaks in the shopping center. On the way out, a woman ran up to me and threw her arms around my body and hugged me as if her life depended on it while yelling my name. She finally let go and I discovered that it was a classmate of mine that I barely knew from school. She sat in front of me in Property class and we exchanged notes in class maybe twice over the course of the year. She told me that her house collapsed around herself and young son while they were huddled in a closet about two blocks from where I was at Starbucks.
The intersection of 15th Street and McFarland Blvd. immediately after the tornado passed. Photo Credit: Janece Maze
Thankfully, I finally was able to speak to my twin sister to learn that she was ok and not impacted by the tornado. Next, I began trying to call my aunt and her husband and could not reach anyone. All the while, I was informed that everyone would have to evacuate the Midtown Shopping area because of gas leaks. I huddled into my damaged Chevy Cavalier (it had glass everywhere from the windows being blown out and my driver’s door would barely open up) along with my classmate and her four year old son to find my aunt’s family. Looking across the street from Midtown and seeing nothing distinguishable in the direction heading to my apartment and my aunt’s home in Alberta City going up University Boulevard almost gave me a heart attack. I drove my car with the three of us in it around debris, fallen trees, and collapsed powers lines across 15th street, Kicker Road, and finally at the bridge that crossed over into Alberta City on University where I was stopped by the police.
Photo Credit: Janece Maze
I left my classmate and son in the car and began walking up University to find my aunt, uncle, and two cousins while I was completely disoriented. In the dark and among flashing ambulance lights, police sirens, and leveled buildings, I could not tell where I was and felt like I was in a nightmare just hoping to wake up. By the time I found myself in front of 25th Avenue, I could not see anything but darkness and shadows of people. Unconsciously, I began running up the street for several blocks while praying that my family members were safe. Somewhere in the darkness, I heard my aunt’s voice and started yelling her name. Somewhere in the darkness, we eventually found each other after someone flashed a light towards me for her to recognize my face. I was so thankful to God to find my aunt, uncle, their two little girls, and my uncle’s sister safe. We made the long walk back to my car in the darkness, among the crowds of panicking people, police sirens, flashing ambulances, and devastation safely. That night my little broken compact car carried all of us along with my classmate and her child safely across town to my aunt’s in-laws home. I am certain the eight of us spent the night trying to mentally register what happened to our community.
Part of the Tuscaloosa Alberta area in the dead of night after the storm. Photo Credit: Janece Maze
The next afternoon, my aunt, uncle and I made our way back to Alberta to survey the damage in the daytime. What we found was utter devastation. Entire homes were gone with just foundations intact, houses were piles of rubble, and some homes remained but were badly damaged. We eventually made our way to my apartment area to see if anything was left. What I saw made my heart drop. My gated apartment community was completely leveled with very few exceptions. I walked over the wreckage and what was left on my side of the complex was merely rubble stacked over smashed cars with debris thrown everywhere.
The remnants of my apartment community. Photo Credit: Janece Maze
At that moment, I was thankful to God that I made my way to Starbucks when I did because I have no doubt that it saved my life. 51 people died in Tuscaloosa as a result of the tornado and numerous more were severely injured. I know that I could have easily been one of them. Ernest Hemingway wrote, “Try to learn to breathe deeply, really to taste food when you eat, and when you sleep really to sleep. Try as much as possible to be wholly alive with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell. And when you get angry, get good and angry. Try to be alive. You will be dead soon enough.” Living through this ordeal changed me forever and challenged me to eat, drink, and savor life every day as if it is my last.
Photo of me surveying the area that previously housed my apartment home. Photo Credit: Janece Maze
I know that life has no guarantees and that each day is gift. There comes a time where we all feel like enough is enough when it comes to harboring materialistic values. After the storm, I found fulfillment through simplifying my life by removing non-essential things and vain ideology. The intangible and valuable things remained and I discovered the importance of eating, drinking, and savoring life everyday with the people I love without reservations.
Until the Next Post,
P.S. Tomorrow’s blog post will cover my top Birmingham event picks for the upcoming week.