UA students from Tuscaloosa reflect on disaster

Katherine Martin

When an EF-5 tornado touched down in Tuscaloosa, a city many University of Alabama students call home, many parts of the city in which some of these students grew up were left unrecognizable.

Since then, the community has come together to help restore and rebuild the city in any way they can.

Kristina Kamburis, a junior majoring in biology, was in the Alpha Chi Omega house on campus when the storm hit.

“It was one of the scariest moments in my life because the tornado was headed straight for us at first, but then decided to take an unexpected turn,” Kamburis said. “Things like this always remind me how much I have to be thankful for and puts the little bumps and bruises you deal with on an everyday basis in perspective.

“It has shown me that you always need to share your blessings with others in need. That’s the joy of life.”

Kamburis said it is incredibly encouraging for her to see how many volunteers there have been throughout the catastrophe.

“It’s such a blessing to see so many willing to give their time and effort to help all those in desperate need,” she said. “It really shows how much people care and love each other and want to help be Christ’s hand in this.”

Kamburis said it’s a little different actually being from Tuscaloosa and seeing the city that you’ve grown up knowing all your life totally gone.

“It’s honestly kind of hard to fully comprehend until you’ve actually seen the rubble, and then you’re totally speechless,” she said. “I also feel like being from here gives me the opportunity to help in the months to come, which I’m grateful for.”

Seeing the efforts of the people of Tuscaloosa have already shown evidence that in the months and years to come the progress the city will make, she said. If people continue to work together, the city will continue to grow stronger.

Kamburis said she has faith that the city will return to normal again.

“It’s not going to be the same,” she said, “but I know the people of Tuscaloosa and Mayor Maddox will put their hard work and effort in to making it the best it can be.”

Kamburis said she thanks all the volunteers for the time they have spent working each and every day.

“You are such a blessing, and I know all the victims of this devastating tornado are forever grateful,” she said.

Kamburis also encouraged those affected that they are in the thoughts and prayers of so many people.

“Keep the faith and know that ere are so many people that are here for you during this hard time.”

Henry Busby, a junior majoring in telecommunications and film, said he was lucky to be at his mom’s house across the river in Riverchase when the tornado touched down.

“The only reason I was even over there was because she went to get my dog from my house while I was in class,” Busby said. “Had my mom not gotten my dog, I would’ve been at my college house.”

“The Yellow House,” Busby’s college house where he lives with three roommates, was located on 2518 6th Avenue. He said the neighborhood and the surrounding areas were hit extremely hard.

“Relatively speaking, though, our house fared better than many on the street,” he said. “It’s definitely not livable, but we’ll have to wait and see if it’s salvageable. I’m pretty doubtful that it will be though.”

Busby said most of the other houses in the neighborhood were either collapsed or blown over.

“Our neighbor’s house was taken completely off its foundation and blown in to a field across the street,” he said.

Busby said even though he’s from Tuscaloosa, he feels lucky to have a place to go on the north side of town that was unaffected.

“It’s almost like it didn’t happen over there,” he said. “There’s a very strange feeling as I cross the bridge everyday back across the river knowing that it’s two completely different worlds now.”

Busby said he doesn’t know what to expect in the upcoming months and years.

“It completely changes the landscape of our entire city, but I’m hopeful that Walt Maddox and the rest of the people tasked with rebuilding Tuscaloosa will take time to find the positives in the situation,” he said. “I hope as a city, we plan our reconstruction carefully in a sustainable way for everyone instead of letting big developers have a field day and slap a condo on every lot.”

Busby said he is not sure the city will ever be back to normal.

“We’ll rebuild and restore,” he said. “but I’m not sure it will ever be the Tuscaloosa that I knew.”

Busby said it has been incredible to watch people whose lives were relatively uninterrupted by the storm voluntarily give up their time and sense of normalcy to help those who weren’t as lucky.

“Whatever it is that you’re good at, whatever skills you have, find a way to put those to work in service of the relief,” he said. “There are a lot of facets to relief other than rebuilding, and they’re all important.”

Mary Martin Johnson, a senior majoring in biology, had just left work at Jim Myers Drug in Alberta about 30 minutes before the tornado hit. Jim Myers was one of the few building left standing in the area.

Johnson said she had to leave Tuscaloosa for an interview at Mercer University in Atlanta on Friday for an interview. While in the interview, Johnson said she started to tear up when the interviewers asked questions about her hometown.

Johnson returned back to Tuscaloosa on Saturday and began volunteer work right away at Woodland Forrest Baptist Church.

“I don’t have really anywhere else to go,” she said. “It’s weird that I don’t have a home away from Tuscaloosa to get away from all the chaos.”

Johnson said it is great to see the Tuscaloosa community helping each other out.

“A bunch of people did leave to get away from it,” she said, “but a lot of people who could go home stayed. They don’t have to be here.”

Because of all the hard work that has already been done, Johnson said she expects things to progress in the next few weeks, but added that there’s no telling how long the rebuilding process will take.

“It’ll never be normal,” she said, “but hopefully you won’t see piles of rubble lying around in the next few months.”

Caitlin Hunnicutt, a junior majoring in marketing, was at her apartment in University Downs on Wednesday night.

“We were watching the live feed on ABC in the bathtub,” she said. “They lost the live feed and out power went out and the building started shaking and all we could hear was glass breaking and people yelling.

“I still can’t sleep at night because of those sounds.”

The community effort after the tornado has been amazing, Hunnicutt said.

“It’s neighbor helping neighbor,” she said. “Regardless of what race you are or what denomination, it’s just so unimportant because of what happened.

Hunnicutt said it will take a while for the restoration process for the city to get remotely back to the way it was. She also hopes that the media will not forget what has happened in the south and move on to other news.

“It’s going to take a while,” she said. “I don’t know if it’ll ever be back to the way it was. Just don’t give up hope. We’re going to get through this together.”

Katie Plott, a junior at Northridge High School, was watching the news as the tornado headed for Bryan Denny stadium when the power went off at her friend’s house north of the river.

Plott said since the storm hit, she has been trying to volunteer, but because she is under 18, they’ve been turning her down. Instead, she’s been buying necessities and school supplies for victims.

“A lot of people can escape and go back home,” she said. “I’m on McFarland every day; I’ll be reminded of it every day.”

Plott said she was amazed by the immediate response of the community.

“I’m thankful to live in a great community where people can come together without fighting, without bickering, without any questions asked, they’re out doing what they can, volunteering,” she said.