Heartache in Tuscaloosa - WSFX - FOX Wilmington, NC

Heartache in Tuscaloosa

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Out of all the areas utterly devastated by the April 27 tornados, the destruction in Tuscaloosa was the deadliest. A week after the tornado, the death count in the county was at 41.

The vicious EF-4 tornado tracked for more than 80 miles, starting at County Road 208 in Eutaw, and ending at 4320 Red Wing Ln. in Birmingham. This violent storm destroyed hundreds, possibly thousands of homes and buildings in Tuscaloosa, Alberta City, Holt, Concord, Pleasant Grove and the Pratt City area of Birmingham, among others. This storm cell actually continued tracking till 10:18 p.m. in North Carolina.

The storm tore through downtown Tuscaloosa starting at around 5:10 p.m. The tornado left a wake of destruction about a mile wide.

The city's emergency management building was destroyed and officials used Bryant-Denny Stadium as a command post. On Saturday after the storm, Mayor Walt Maddox said that 5,713 structures had been damaged. Initially 454 people were listed as missing, and just more than a week later, that number was down to 25.

Students at the University of Alabama described their terror as they watched TV coverage showing the tornado coming straight for them. Normally stoic professors were visibly shaken, and told their students to say their last words.

The tornado bypassed the campus but flattened neighborhoods and businesses less than a mile away. Sadly, the university announced that six students died during the storm. Two students from Shelton State Community College and Stillman College also perished.

One of the UA students first identified was Ashley Harrison, 22, of Dallas who tried to ride out the storm with her boyfriend, Crimson Tide long snapper Carson Tinker. Tinker was reportedly injured in the storm. Video: Family of dead UA student devastated

Loryn Brown, another UA student, was on the phone Wednesday when the tornado hit her home, killing her. Bethany Wales reports on how the family and friends are mourning her death. Video: Friends mourn loss of UA Student

After the storm passed, students flocked to 15th Street, now leveled, to see the widespread devastation.

On the main street, cars were flipped and leaking gas, power lines were down, crates were floating in the lake, trees were snapped in half as far as the eye could see and dazed residents looked in horror, made phone calls and texted friends and family. Video: Destruction in Tuscaloosa

A street that once held many restaurants, shopping centers and neighborhoods now looked like the landscape had been swept away by a terrible monster. Overnight, rescue crews worked to free people trapped in their homes and cars. Video: Aerial tour of Cullman, Tuscaloosa, Pleasant Grove and Pratt City

UA made the decision to cancel final exams and postponed commencement exercises by three months. On Wednesday, April 28, nearly half of the employees with Bama Dining, the university's food service, were still unaccounted for. Video: Half of Bama Dining employees missing

President Obama and the First Lady arrived in Tuscaloosa on Air Force One on Sunday morning. With Governor Robert Bentley, the Obamas toured the hardest hit areas in the county and promised the survivors that they will not be forgotten. Video: Obama surveys Tuscaloosa damage

"I've got to say, I've never seen devastation like this," Obama said. "It is heartbreaking. We were just talking to some residents here who were lucky enough to escape alive but have lost everything."

On Sunday, Tuscaloosa County Probate Judge Hardy McCullom says the actual number of tornado-related deaths in the county is likely closer to 50, despite the day's official announcement of 39. Video: Judge estimates Tuscaloosa death toll high

In one amazing story of survival, the Full Moon barbecue restaurant was destroyed, however 20 employees and customers were spared after they all piled into the freezer. Video: 20 survive in freezer while Full Moon BBQ blown away

Just after the storm, help began pouring in, not just from Alabama, but from across the county. The Tide company brought in their ‘Loads of Hope' trucks to wash and fold victims clothes, and Duracell offered up a cell phone charging station.

And even more national attention came to the town when actor Charlie Sheen arrived and pledged to start a foundation to help the victims. Video: Charlie Sheen visits storm damaged areas

There were two other communities within the city limits that were damaged beyond repair—Alberta City and Rosedale.

The annihilation in parts of Alberta City and Tuscaloosa defies adequate description. But after the damage, thousands of people are spontaneously pitching in to help victims. The Leland Shopping Center was damaged, but a few days after the storm it turned into a center where victims could get free food from restaurants and apply for help from FEMA.

Son of evangelist Billy Graham, Franklin Graham toured Alberta City. He said while flying from Birmingham to Tuscaloosa he saw the path of destruction the tornado took.

"It's unbelievable that much damage, that stayed on the ground that long, and where that tornado hit just blew everything in its path," Graham said. "My heart goes out to the people that have lost their property. We pray for them and we want to try and do everything we can to generate prayer from all over the world in Alabama, especially here in Tuscaloosa."

In the Rosedale community, families went back to where their homes once stood, gathering what they could. One family decided to have lunch on the slab that used to be their kitchen. Video: Families in Rosedale salvage their belongings

 

More Video from Tuscaloosa
99-year-old woman rides out Tuscaloosa tornado on her couch

Baseball team comes together for devastated coach

RAW video of Tuscaloosa tornado damage

RAW video: Tuscaloosa tornado and storm damage

Video: Aerial survey of damage in Tuscaloosa

High school athletes compete amidst storm cleanup

Tuscaloosa Before and After  

Alabama students stay behind to help storm victims

Nick Saban reflects on Tuscaloosa

 

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