All day long April 27, meteorologists warned that conditions were rife for a severe weather outbreak in the South, and Alabama was expected to be ground zero. The sky was warm and moist, the sun was shining, dew points were abnormally high and Southeasterly winds coming off the Gulf of Mexico were stewing the air. Higher up was a wedge of cold air. It came from the North, creating wind shear.
The numbers meteorologists look at to predict storms, numbers that make sense only to those with an obsession over weather, were frightening to even the casual observer. Compared to the conditions that created an EF5 tornado that scoured the Alabama countryside on April 8, 1998 — a tornado that killed 32 as it cut a mile-wide swath of destruction across Alabama for more than 30 miles — Wednesday’s numbers were off the charts.
One of the State’s most seasoned meteorologists said the numbers were among the highest he’d seen in his 20-plus years of weather forecasting.
The damage actually began in the early morning hours. A line of storms with strong, straight line winds — and sometimes containing small, pop-up tornadoes — whipped across the State before daybreak. They knocked down trees and power lines. But they only foreshadowed what was to come.
Shortly after 3 p.m., a tornado dropped from the sky and began churning across North Central Alabama. It was one of the first of dozens that would churn up the landscape that afternoon and early evening. While it seemed significant enough at the time, it was far from the largest that would grind over Alabama.
As the afternoon wore on, larger tornadoes spun up and dropped from the sky. They obliterated much of Tuscaloosa — damaging the campus of the University of Alabama — and wiped the smaller towns of Pleasant Grove, Concord, Hackleburg and many small communities completely off the map… literally. Not a structure or tree remained. It was if a giant scythe had swept across the landscape. The town of Cordova and the city of Fultondale suffered major damage. Other towns and communities suffered similar fates.
The tornado that decimated Tuscaloosa stayed on the ground through Birmingham and into neighboring Georgia — grinding along for more than 70 miles — and left in its wake a scene of devastation that words cannot describe. Houses were scrubbed down to their foundations, cars and trucks disappeared and could not be found, couches and pianos were tossed across several yards, mattresses and box springs hung suspended from bare tree trunks and bodies lay in the streets and fields.
By Saturday, the death toll in Alabama was at 240 and climbing. But dozens, or even a couple hundred or more were missing, so the count was expected to go higher. Across the South, the death toll from the tornado outbreak topped 300.
The tornado that dropped out of the sky at 3 p.m. aimed its fury on the city of Cullman. The city, with a population of about 16,000, houses the offices of Personal Liberty Media Group, LLC., the parent company of Personal Liberty Digest™.
The storm severely damaged the Cullman County Courthouse, the First Baptist Church and a number of businesses as it roared through the city center. Businesses were destroyed, their brick walls knocked down by the force of the wind, their roofs blown off.
Homes that had stood for 100 years or more were damaged or destroyed. Stately oak trees older than that were pushed over.
The Personal Liberty office building was once a bank. As the storm approached, the few members of the Personal Liberty staff that remained in the building — most had left for home in anticipation of the bad weather — took shelter in a vault on the bottom floor.
They watched as across the street the wind peeled the roof off a building. They saw debris fly past the windows.
After the storm passed, they stepped outside and saw damage all around. The Personal Liberty building escaped damage, but the power was off — power poles and lines and building debris lay in a twisted mess all around them — and the nearby water treatment plant suffered heavy damage, so water was no longer flowing through the pipes.
Across the State, as soon as the storm was past, first responders, rescue workers and volunteers began caring for the injured they found and searching the rubble for other victims. But in some communities, because the destruction was so complete and so widespread, rescue workers had not yet arrived. There were still bodies in the streets more than 48 hours after the storms were over.
And most disturbing of all were reports that some looting was going on in some of those communities.
The storms and their aftermath demonstrate how quickly our civilization can collapse. Even though people were quick to donate their time, efforts, equipment and their money to assist in the cleanup and to provide for people’s needs, it’s going to take a long time for the hardest hit areas to achieve any semblance of normalcy.
Electrical workers began immediately to try to restore power to the more than 400,000 homes left dark after the storms passed. But in many cases, the electrical infrastructure was completely gone. New poles had to be planted and new lines strung. Some will be without power for more than a week even though their communities escaped damage. Getting power to hardest hit areas will take longer.
We’ve long preached preparedness in our articles on Personal Liberty Digest™. We believe you should have water and food, guns and ammunition and gold and silver stored for times such as these — or whatever circumstance life throws you way. But watching tornadoes rip through your cities and towns and seeing the devastation they can leave in their wake makes you realize that no matter how prepared you may be, there are times when it is not enough.
Man likes to think he’s in charge. But despite the advancement of man’s knowledge and technology, nothing man has devised or constructed can withstand nature’s fury. The April 27 tornadoes and the Japan earthquake and tsunami are evidence that God is in charge.
But don’t make the mistake of blaming God for the destruction. A friend of mine said, “God does not punish people with natural disasters, although I think they do serve the purpose of showing his power and making people take stock of their lives. And if our world was perfect and no one ever suffered, then no one would long to go to heaven, would they?”
So as the media reports from the storm-ravaged areas fade away, take stock of your life. Are you properly prepared for whatever nature might throw at you? Better yet, are you properly prepared for what comes after life? I pray that those 300-plus who departed this earthly realm during the storm were.
P.S. The Personal Liberty staff and their families are all safe, though some received damage to their property. Even though power is not scheduled to be restored in Cullman until later this week, we have continued bringing Personal Liberty Digest™ to you without interruption, thanks to the efforts and ingenuity of the fine staff.