Friday, April 29, 2011

When It Hits Home

It was a one-two punch that hit Birmingham on April 27.

First, there were the 70-80 mph straight line winds that came fast and fierce in the early morning, uprooting many trees and snapping many more off at mid-trunk. Power lines were down; roads were blocked.

Then eight hours later, it began again. This time it was twisters, moving in packs across the state, defining their paths with wreckage. Then came the monster – a gargantuan, relentless mile-wide spinning mass of immense power and fury that traversed 185 miles of our state. Those of us who still had power saw it on TV – first as it approached Tuscaloosa and then as it approached Birmingham. We watched it bearing down on our city skyline, on the UAB complex. Even the weatherman said, “Wow.”

Downtown Birmingham was spared as the tornado plowed a path just north of the city center, utterly shattering Pratt City as it did the Rosedale community of Tuscaloosa. The loss is immeasurable.

Eighteen people died in the Birmingham area – over two hundred in the state. I wonder how many more lives might have been lost if not for the remarkable work of our local TV weathermen. I stayed tuned to Fox6 and tracked the imminent paths of the storms with meteorologist J.P. Dice and his team. Day to day, these guys report on the mundane warm fronts and cold fronts that pass through our area, but on April 27 they demonstrated their passion for what is surely the highest calling of a meteorologist: saving lives.

J.P. Dice was single-minded in his determination to identify the communities, the streets, even the local businesses that were in the paths of the multiple storms that raced across Alabama, and to alert us to the exact time we could expect to be affected. Alone in my house and uneasy about the trajectory of the storms that were moving through Shelby County, I was profoundly grateful to be told, “A tornado will cross I65 near the Shelby County Airport in 10 minutes. If you’re not in your safe place, go there now.” I went, and I continued to follow Dice’s reports on my portable radio. When that storm passed, it was followed by another within the hour. Again, I followed instructions. I think a lot of others did, too, and I believe J.P. Dice and his fellow meteorologists can be credited with saving lives in the Birmingham area.

As in other natural disasters we’ve seen, the worst devastation hit communities of limited resources. Why? Only God knows why He allows the things He allows. We don’t even dare to ask, because we know His thoughts are unfathomable. Still, I have to trust Him. I know there are many others in our community who trust Him and are asking for His mercy and blessings. I’ve read reports of people who lost their homes and all of their material possessions, yet are praising God for preserving their lives. I’m humbled by this evidence of faith. If I’m ever tested in such a way, I hope I’ll be able to respond with praise and thanksgiving to the One to whom my life belongs.

I want to help, as I know so many others do. Already the community is mobilizing and organizing, and the need for help will be ongoing. There are things we can do. We can donate money to community relief organizations. I chose to donate to the Tornado Recovery Fund established by the Birmingham Jewish Federation, which is coordinating efforts with local relief agencies and will give 100% of the money collected to community relief. (‘Tornado Recovery’ in the Comments box.)

Hands On Birmingham is a clearing house that is gathering volunteer information and will make contact when specific volunteer opportunities arise. I registered on their website.

The people of Birmingham are a generous people, a caring people. I believe we’ll come through for the ones who need us now.

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