How to help
Checks to the Tuscaloosa Disaster Relief fund can be mailed to the West Alabama Chamber of Commerce Foundation, P.O. Box 020410, Tuscaloosa, AL 35402. For more information, call (205) 758-7588.
Michael Maready didn’t realize at first the damage the tornado had inflicted on Tuscaloosa, Ala.
The South Forsyth High School graduate has been a student at the University of Alabama for three years. He said just before the mile-wide twister came through Wednesday afternoon, he and some friends ditched their dinner plans and drove to a parking deck under a dorm on campus.
It appears to have been a lucky move.
“It actually came about a mile away from the dorm,” Maready said. “You could see the sparks from transformers blowing out, there was rubble and we saw a tree flying and signs and debris everywhere. We thought it went through campus.”
Maready later found out the school was relatively unscathed, despite being minutes from streets where businesses, schools and entire neighborhoods were destroyed.
According to media reports, Tuscaloosa’s mayor has said the tornado cut a 5.9-mile path through the west Alabama city and stretched from 1 to 1.5 miles wide.
The death toll continued to rise late last week, reaching at least 46, and about 1,000 people had reported injuries. Another 450 people were unaccounted for.
President Barack Obama visited the city Friday, promising aid and resources. Pages on social networking sites were set up almost immediately after the storm offering information for those who wanted to help.
Maready said he’s been in contact with his friends in the college town and while they’re OK, some of their houses are gone.
Authorities have confirmed at least eight students died in the storm.
Alberta City, an area in the eastern part of Tuscaloosa, was one of the hardest hit.
“I can’t even describe it, it’s just utter destruction,” Maready said. “We walked down University [Boulevard] and it reminded me of footage you would see in a World War II documentary ... there were just leveled buildings and brick structures were damaged.”
While Maready’s home was not damaged, he went to a friend’s apartment to help salvage what was left.
They had to park a mile away and walk because of the debris and downed trees and power lines. When they got there, the two-story building was gone.
“His room was just a pile of sheetrock, drywall and wood,” Maready said. “His TV and electronics were gone. He found some of his clothes.
"We luckily found his Social Security card just sitting there. I was just looking through the pile of rubble for his stuff and I was afraid I was going to come across someone who didn’t make it.”
Maready said high school friends who attend the University of Georgia have travelled to Tuscaloosa to help. He said bottled water is needed.
The city government alerted residents who live in parts of Tuscaloosa to boil their water for fear of contamination.
Those who have clean water are asked to conserve it. Also needed are blood, food and other supplies.
Maready said classes have been cancelled for the rest of the semester. May graduation ceremonies have been rescheduled for August and students have been asked to work out with their professors how to take their final exams.
In the meantime, thousands remain without power in Tuscaloosa. Curfews were established and the Alabama National Guard has been called in to monitor the situation.