April 26, 2011 was a Tuesday.
That night I watched the weather reports and planned for the next day. There were some storms coming through overnight, but probably not severe. There was a big storm coming through the next afternoon, with possible tornadoes after lunch. We went to bed.
April 27, 2011 was a Wednesday.
I woke up to thunder and lightening. While I was in the shower the power blinked 4 times, so I knew the storm must be powerful, since we very rarely lose power. I turned on the TV while I got dressed, and saw that a line of storms had passed through the state, with high winds and some possible tornadoes. The storm passed, the rain stopped, and I got ready for work. I decided to take the dog to work, since he needed a bath, and that way he'd be with me if the weather got bad. I kissed Sam goodbye and Tommy, Hank, and I headed out.
My day changed as I pulled up to daycare. One of the workers headed out to the truck and told me that their power was out, and they were closed. Apparently the morning storm had knocked trees down all over the area, and power was out to much of the city. As I was reforming my game plan, my cell phone rang. It was one of my employees letting me know that her parents' house in north Alabama had tornado damage and she'd be gone for a few days helping them out. She assured me that they were fine but their house was heavily damaged. Little did I know that was just the beginning.
I pulled into work expecting the generator to be running, but we hadn't lost power. I lugged Tommy and Hank into the clinic, put Hank in a cage, and tried to figure out what to do with Tommy. I figured I could do a few things, then head home since I didn't think we had much to do. Little did I know that enough cases had already come in to keep me busy for two and a half hours. Poor Tommy did his best to behave, and my staff did their best to entertain him, but there's only so much iPhone and markers and goldfish crackers can do when he's used to running around with his friends. I finally finished my cases and turned the clinic over to the other vet working that day. I was going to head to my grandparents' house, but they didn't have power either. So I loaded everyone back in the truck and headed back home. I reminded the employees to watch the weather and close early if needed. I didn't want anyone driving home in bad weather.
Tommy and I enjoyed the warm, although slightly windy, weather by playing on his new swingset. Sam's job sent the employees home at noon due to the incoming storms, and we all had lunch together - quite an unusual occurrence in the middle of the week. Tommy went down for a nap and we watched the weather and cleared out some room on the closet floor in case we needed to head in there. After Tommy woke up he wanted to go back outside, but since the sky was dark and I didn't know how far away the lightening was, we found things inside to keep him busy. And we continued to watch the weather.
Around 3pm the storms were starting to get close to Birmingham. We first watched coverage of a tornado in Cullman, AL, where some friends of ours live. After texting them and finding out that they were ok, we relaxed. We figured that was the big one. We were wrong.
Sometime around 5pm a tornado headed to Tuscaloosa. It looked massive. We watched in shock as it was spotted by a tower camera, spinning and whipping debris around. It looked like something out of a movie, something computer generated. I couldn't believe it was real. We watched in horror as it moved across the radar through Tuscaloosa and into Birmingham. It stayed north of my family, but seemed headed for Sam's mom's house. We called her and she assured us she was in her safe place. Somehow it lifted and skipped over her area. We ate dinner. I bathed Tommy. We went back to watching the TV.
They were tracking 2 storms to the southwest of us, both had tornado signatures. At 6:45 it was time for us to take cover. We packed into the closet and tried to hear the weather on my shower radio over Tommy playing with his Easter basket that we had stashed in the closet a few days before. As one and then a second storm passed us by without much but a little hard rain, we felt safe, and so we came out to get Tommy ready for bed. We checked the weather and were assured that our area was done with storms for the day. We went to bed.
April 29, 2011 was a Thursday.
I'm off on Thursdays, so Tommy and I planned to just stay home and have a quiet day. Sam checked in with work, and since they were open, he went on in. I turned on the news in one room while Tommy watched Disney Channel in the other room. I logged into Facebook to see how all my friends were doing. Reports of damage and lives lost began to come in. One or two here, three or four there, then a dozen, then 2 dozen, then 60, 70, the numbers kept rising. I had already called into work to make sure there wasn't any damage there, and all employees were accounted for. Several were without power, but everyone was ok. Then I got a text from Shelly, an employee who is also off on Thursdays. She lived only a few miles from the tornado's path. She and her husband had driven over to a neighborhood where some friends live right after the storms, and she saw that our friend Jennifer's house wasn't there anymore. Jennifer used to work with us, and she still used us as her dog's vet. Cell coverage was spotty there, and she didn't have power, so she asked if I could find out if Jennifer and her husband Garrett had gone to one of their family's houses to ride out the storm. So I began my search for Jennifer.
I started with her Facebook page. She had posted about watching the Cullman tornado on TV. Then, about 6pm, there was a post from her brother asking why she wasn't answering her cell. I started to get worried. I checked her husband's page, no posts. I checked her brother's page - he reposted a Bible verse she had posted on Good Friday, and said how grateful he was for her faith. I really got worried. I started hunting down their relatives and I found a post on Garrett's dad's page where someone had posted a prayer request because they had been in their house when the tornado hit, and Garrett was in the hospital and they didn't know where Jennifer was. Now I panicked. I started calling our friends to let them know what was going on. I emailed her brother, letting him know who I was, and asking if they knew anything. He informed me that they were still looking for her. Later that day I got a message from his wife that they had been informed that Jennifer had most likely been killed in the storm. I stayed up late that night, I couldn't stop watching the news. I just couldn't comprehend what had happened all over our state.
April 29th was a Friday.
I went back to work. Daycare had power again, and Tommy was glad to get back to his friends. I got to work and told my employees about Jennifer. We were just waiting for confirmation from her family. I went to check my Facebook messages - the clinic's internet was down. I went to check on my phone, my phone went dead. I started to get frustrated. On a day when I really needed the internet, I was without it. For several hours. Then I realized that there were people not too far away without power, without homes, without family. I went back to doing my job. The phone company fixed our internet. Jennifer's family told me they had confirmation. The news sites told me that over a hundred people had died, hundreds of thousands were without power, thousands were without homes. I picked my son up at daycare that night and gave him a huge hug. I went home and reset my phone. I sat at my computer watching TV and trying to figure out what I could do to help.
April 30th was a Saturday.
Sam was called down to Tuscaloosa to help in the morgue. His mom came down and watched Tommy while I was at work that morning. When I came home we ate lunch together and talked about what had happened. When Tommy went down for his nap she headed home and I made a game plan. That afternoon Tommy and I headed to Walmart and picked up some items the storm shelters said they were needing. It seemed lots of people in our area had done the same, since flashlights, batteries, diapers, and formula were mostly wiped out. We found a few bag fulls of things to donate and headed home. When Sam got home that evening we were very glad to see him. It felt wonderful to be together. Both Sam and I had a new sense of gratitude for what God has given us. We watched TV and saw how the people of Alabama were helping each other.
May 1st was a Sunday.
We went to church and prayed for the storm survivors. I found out that one of the families was going down to one of the hardest hit areas that afternoon, and we loaded our donations into their trunk. That afternoon I talked to one of my employees and we decided to organize a pet food and supply donation drive at work. I watched on Facebook as people from all over the state, and all over the country, donated money, supplies, and time to help the people of Alabama, and the other states affected, recover from this tragedy.
Today is Wednesday. As of tonight the death toll stands at 236, with 30 people unaccounted for. Jennifer's husband is still in the hospital, but his body is starting to heal. Jennifer is in Heaven, and her family left behind will be slower to heal. People from all over are bringing in truckloads of supplies. People are sacrificing their time to hand out meals, clear trees and debris, wash clothes, and whatever else is needed. People are being reunited with their pets who went missing that day. Sam's uncle is getting back a page from a family photo album that blew away when their trailer (which was not at their house) was destroyed by a tornado. That page was found in Georgia. Through social networking people have found people, pets, and belongings that might otherwise have been missing for who knows how long. Through this tragedy God is bringing families and communities close together than they ever have been.
Tomorrow is another day. Tomorrow I am taking a truckload of pet food and supplies to a mobile shelter to help hand them out to families who need them. Tomorrow I will help treat pets with injuries in an area where the vet clinics aren't functional yet. Tomorrow I will kiss my husband and my son and thank God that he spared us, and that I have another day with them. Tomorrow life goes on, even though it will never be the same.