A day and a half in Tuscaloosa Tuesday, May 10 2011 

So, a couple of hours ago we arrived back from a day and half in Tuscaloosa. What a roller coaster that was. I think the first day we were there I felt every emotion possible.

There was excitement….of the car ride there, getting to know some people better and having some fun. When we got to Tuscaloosa we went to register as volunteers with Give Tuscaloosa ( http://www.givetuscaloosa.com), and were sent off to a warehouse for the day.

Then there was confusion…. The warehouse was quite chaotic. There was more stuff coming in than anyone really knew what to do with. We started with a motivating assembly line to work efficiently and then approximately fourty trucks came with even more stuff. No one was really sure what to do with it all.

Piles of donations

Then there was a feeling I really can’t explain…. The amount of clothes was too much to even sort through and be helpful for those who needed it, and as a result much of it was to be shipped to Honduras by the end of the week. Spirits were down, people were angry, confused, upset, frustrated, etc. There were complaints that Tuscaloosa was not the only city that needed help, and while there were over 40 trucks here in that couple hours, some places were only getting two trucks a week…

Then there was pure sadness… After the workday we took a drive through Tuscaloosa to see some of the damage done by the tornadoes. I was in absolute shock and essentially speechless at much of what we saw. Most people described it as surreal, and it truly was that. There was a point on our drive where we got out to walk around a bit and take some pictures. It was at this point I wasn’t really sure how to handle any of it. I got out of the car and walked closer to the water we were by to look at the surrounding houses and damage, and had to turn back to the car to collect myself and hold back tears. I could not believe it. Most of these houses were just piles of debris. Everything that was inside that person’s home was gone. There were Xs everywhere, like those still on many houses in New Orleans, they were even on the cars that were in the areas. There was an older women who was looking through some of the debris and as we drove by I could see the shock and sadness on her face.

destroyed home in Tuscaloosa

The craziest thing about it was that here you see all this debris and half-standing houses, and across the street the buildings are fine or there are maybe a couple broken windows. Even on the same side of the street where there was extensive damage, there was somehow one cell phone store still open. I don’t know how, or why it was not damaged, but it was shocking to see. Seeing everything just broke my heart.

This difference in the damage really made me understand that the tornadoes in Tuscaloosa were a disaster, whereas Katrina was a pure catastrophe. I’ve been reading A Paradise Built in Hell and Solnit describes catastrophe as a turning over, an upset of what is expected, to emerge into the unexpected. Disaster has many of the same impacts, but not to the same extent; it’s a “misfortune due to astrologically generated trouble”. There was damage, but there were others still there to help keep those in need kicking. There were still stores and restaurants and so many things open. There were people coming together from the areas in Tuscaloosa there weren’t hit that were volunteering their help. On the other hand in New Orleans essentially everything was damaged. After the feelings I experienced in Tuscaloosa, I can’t even imagine the feelings of seeing New Orleans after Katrina hit. Whether the disaster/catastrophe is human made or natural, it’s devastating.

Even through everything it was inspiring to see the people who did come together, from in town and from out of town. Even though the amount of stuff that was donated was overwhelming, it was inspiring to see that people do care and want to help. As depressing as it may be good things can truly eventually come from disaster. The door above the warehouse yesterday said something along the lines of, if you think it can’t be done don’t get in the way of those who are doing it. It’s these types of things that really keep me going through the feelings of confusion, frustration and sadness.

Alright, that was enough rambling for me.

– Shannon K


One year ago… Thursday, Apr 28 2011 

A year ago today I woke up in Birmingham, Alabama and went to sleep in New Orleans; I had officially moved.

Today, several tornadoes have ripped through Alabama.   Several group two NOLA students (those arriving on May 14th) were planning to go on a Civil Rights field trip to Alabama. Some of the areas hit today were amongst those I planned for us to visit, or at least pass through.

I was going to post today about my experiences over the past year, but instead, my mind is caught up with the images and news coming out across the south. This has been a bad year for storms; a bad year for tornadoes. We have had several hit the Greater New Orleans area, including in St. Bernard Parish where I live.

A few weeks ago, this was my phone weather alert system going crazy:

The more I study disasters, the more news like this hits me hard. It is part of my PTSD for sure; it’s part of knowing more about the impact. And sometimes it is personal. My friends Jess and Fred are from Alabama. Their hometowns have been hard tonight. Jess has heard from all her family; Fred hasn’t. I was just talking with him today because he is arranging a sound system for the van I will be using for tours with the students. Statistically speaking, it is likely that Fred’s family is fine. But, dozens of people have been killed and thousands more affected. Regardless, my thoughts are with Jess and Fred tonight, and with all those who are waiting to hear from those whom they love.

I have never lost someone close to a disaster, but the suddenness with which they occur reminds me of the loss of my brother Tyler. That unpredictability, that instant loss; the way life changes within minutes.

I’m really just feeling quite sad tonight.


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