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UA junior experiences two tornadoes in 10 months

Katherine Owen

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When the tornadoes of April 27 ripped through Tuscaloosa, Hannah Fowler, a freshman at the time, couldn’t have imagined she would experience the same nightmare just under a year later in her own hometown of Harrisburg, Ill.

Fowler, now a junior majoring in marketing and communication studies, is from the southern Illinois town of Harrisburg that was ravaged by an EF4 tornado on Feb. 29 of this year.

When asked about the experience of having both her college town and hometown destroyed by tornadoes, Fowler explained that both were overwhelming, but having your hometown destroyed is particularly heartbreaking.

“When a tornado hits your hometown, it touches a more sensitive spot in your heart,” Fowler said. “It’s very unsettling and makes you defensive for your town.”

The Harrisburg tornado hit in the middle of the night while many were sleeping. Fowler said she was in Tuscaloosa at the time and woke up to two picture messages of their house sent from from her father.

“I felt helpless because I couldn’t leave school because my workload at the time was huge,” she said. “I had to rely on Facebook and national broadcasts for updates.”

Fowler said it is upsetting to leave the destruction in Tuscaloosa and go home to more in Harrisburg. Fowler’s family was fortunate in that their home was not destroyed, though many of their neighbors’ houses were.

“I ran around my neighborhood for 18 years, playing games with all the kids. Even though my house wasn’t destroyed, some of my neighbors’ houses are gone,” Fowler said. “I consider those houses my homes.”

Fowler said Harrisburg is a developing town and has fewer resources for its recovery efforts than Tuscaloosa.

“Tuscaloosa is a bigger town with more outreach. While there was a lot more destruction in the Tuscaloosa tornado, Tuscaloosa has the resources to get back on its feet. Harrisburg will, but it will take a lot of time, care and attention,” she said.

Fowler said she has seen the spirit and community that was seen on campus and in Tuscaloosa after the April 27 tornado in her own community.

“After the tornado hit my neighborhood, my dad stepped outside and turned around to a neighbor with his gloves on ready to help,” Fowler said. “It’s very heartwarming.”

After going through these two experiences in a year, Fowler said the way she sees natural disasters has been changed.

“I never used to pay attention to weather alerts,” Fowler said. “Now, I take them a lot more seriously. Every house needs to have a plan if a natural disaster occurs.”

Not only does Fowler view natural disasters differently, her perspective on the two different communities has changed.

“I was never very grateful for my town. It is extremely small, with 9,000 people. I saw it as a place with zero opportunity. Now, I look at my town through a different lens,” Fowler said. “Our town is blessed with many resources that it provides to the southern Illinois region. I am blessed to be able to come home to a peaceful place with all of my high school friends and family, with a national forest in our backyard.”

Most importantly, Fowler said she has learned to cherish community.

“I have learned that you only get one hometown and one community that has loved you since you were born, so cherish the place and the people in it.”

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UA junior experiences two tornadoes in 10 months