The University has converted the Student Recreation Center into a refuge for students who need a safe place to stay overnight as city authorities estimate the damage done to the city.
Lines of displaced college students and Tuscaloosa residents have been cared for by student volunteers who showed up with the help of social media advertising the Center’s need for assistance.
George Brown, executive director of University recreation, said the Recreation Center entered full shelter mode by 6:30 p.m.
Initially providing shelter to students and non-students alike, the University is having non-students transported to the Belk Center at Bowers Park, an official Red Cross Center for Tuscaloosa.
Transportation for the non-students while city power is out will be a challenge, Brown said.
“There is a logistics nightmare,” he said. “We’re sensitive to the needs of the non-students who have been displaced, who we know are scared.”
Besides the issue of the lack of power, Brown is struggling to determine the nature of the damage in Tuscaloosa since information is hard to obtain with failing cell phone service and dying batteries.
“The biggest problem we are facing is the uncertainty of the magnitude of what we are dealing with,” he said. “We’re going to have to wait until the light of day to assess the damage and what we are hearing is there is significant damage.”
The Rec is accepting donations such as clothes, food, and toiletries, with an emphasis on the latter.
Volunteers are making rounds to each displaced student to determine the circumstances of their needs, and staff of the University Medical Center are present to attend to injuries of the displaced, Brown said.
The Rec will take in displaced students throughout the night, Brown said.
The land line of the Rec remains intact and has been used to allow students to make calls to family and friends, said Matthew Brown, Rec communications coordinator who has been there since the tornado warning was sent out.
“I think we were just shocked by the magnitude of everything,” Matthew said. “Once we knew that we were becoming a shelter, we just took the steps that we needed to take.”
Collier Philips, a sophomore majoring in pre-med, said he was sent a mass-text message from SGA President Grant Cochran to arrive at the Rec to volunteer.
Philips, chair of the local chapter of Pi Kappa Phi that Cochran is a member of, said the entire fraternity has been encouraged to help in the effort at the Rec, which involves sustaining food and necessities to displaced students throughout the evening and morning.
“The good thing is that there are more volunteers here than people who need help,” he said.
Caryn Bradford, a junior majoring in operations management who lives at Capstone Quarters which is near Campus Way apartments, said she felt the threat of the tornado while in Alston Hall on campus.
“We were watching the news in one of the classrooms,” she said. “I saw a big funnel cloud on the screen coming into Tuscaloosa and saw this big flash of light on the screen and then the building went dark.”