The only thing I know for sure right now is that I’m very lucky. I live in campus housing—on the side of Tuscaloosa that didn’t get touched by the recent tornados. In the moments after the storm, my friends and I knew it must have been bad, but it took hours, even days, for the full impact to be realized. Many are dead, and many more have had their lives forever changed.
I cannot accurately describe the way it felt to see my city destroyed—seemingly attacked, with no enemy to blame. Neither can I express the way it felt when I realized that my campus was now more of a refugee camp than a school. Waiting in lines for sandwiches and cups of water, the only available food, we hoped our phone batteries would last long enough to keep bringing us updates until power was restored.
Driving across parts of town that were once bustling hubs of business and student life, and seeing them now dark, deserted, and destroyed was completely surreal. Traffic was worse than it is on Game Day—and if you’ve ever been in Tuscaloosa for a football game, you know that’s saying something.
As we watched the death toll climb, and as we heard news, good and bad, of our friends, armed guards watched us from every street corner, preventing looting in our normally peaceful college town. But over the roar of helicopters piloted by news teams and the National Guard, of generators providing emergency power to campus, and of sirens continually sounding in the distance, there was laughter.
Somehow, despite the feeling of helplessness as we sat in the dark not knowing what to do or how to help, the Tuscaloosa spirit was preserved. Within hours of the double-vortex EF-4 tornado gorging a 1.5-mile wide scar through our town and others, it was evident that it had not destroyed our sense of community. We in the South are known to be resilient, and this time is no exception. Much has been lost, but with it, much opportunity to serve, grow, and move forward.
Tuscaloosa is not the only town affected—much of north Alabama is devastated, with some towns wiped clear off the map. And as we rebuild, we will do so with a purpose. We will replace the damaged police and fire stations, the water towers, the homes, we will clear the roads of the trees that were thrown, fully uprooted, into the road.
To outsiders, the South is often known more for its poverty and “backwoods” culture than for the beauty and hospitality those that live here enjoy every day. But we now have the chance to rebuild our aging, and in places failing, infrastructure. We will take this chance to rebuild our town, and reclaim our state. We will rebuild Alabama efficiently, with better technology, and do so using less energy.
As droves of volunteers take to the streets, the one thing everyone can see is that it is students taking the reigns on this effort. The youth will not wait patiently for others to fix this problem. We are here to take back Tuscaloosa, bring back Birmingham, and aide all the small towns in between, and make them truly better than ever before.
I lied when I said I only know one thing. I know I’m lucky, but I also know that we’ll move forward from here. I know that Alabama will work together to become better. I know that we will move towards solar energy—so that next time a storm like this happens, millions don’t sit without power. I know we’ll seek real climate solutions, to ease the risk of more of these storms happening. I know that Alabama will be a better state, that our communities will become stronger, and that our youth will step up to the challenge that has been placed before them.
Roll Tide Roll.