Friday, April 29, 2011

thoughts in the aftermath (this time, really)

Editor's note: What you are about to read is a collection of thoughts from a news reporter who's been attempting to report the events of the last few days in between crying fits. A number of better columnists are already attempting to put this thing into proper perspective better than I. Just seemed like this site should do something.

As a news reporter, one of the things you never know is when you'll be part of a story much larger than yourself or your own community. When the ringing phone woke me at 6 a.m. Wednesday — she was at the hospital working — to tell me the sirens were going off, my main concern was ... making sure the dogs didn't wail. Bad weather scares them, you see.
Here's the thing: If you live here, you hear the tornado sirens maybe 45-50 times per year. Our adopted hometown of Leeds lies in three different counties — Jefferson, Shelby and St. Clair — and we hear weather warnings for all three (so storms in Montevallo wake us up just the same as if they were right on top of us). Eventually you learn to regard them as more of an irritation than anything else.
So that's the spirit that woke me up Wednesday — "This again?"

By the end of the day you start looking around and realize the magnitude of what's happened ... and realize the scope of the story. Every year, a few tornadoes touch down in a few areas; sometimes people sustain injuries, sometimes a person or two is killed. But it's almost always a local story; media outlets outside the immediate area where the storm occurs pay brief attention to it and then move on.
Not this time. As I was going to bed Wednesday, it was settling in: This is a national story. Statewide media will lead every newscast with it; national media outlets will put it in the same block as the President's birth certificate and the royal wedding. As a reporter, it's humbling — yesterday as we were coordinating coverage that is now on our website, it was hard not to think, "You're not good enough to write this story."
It happens that quickly.

We live in a society of hyperbole. It's just what we do. He's the worst president ever; this is the greatest game ever; that song is the greatest song ever. So late Wednesday, when people started calling this, "The worst storm in Alabama history," my sense was to downplay that. Bigger than Opal? Than Ivan? C'mon, man.
Only then the reports start to roll in: Franklin County ... Tuscaloosa ... Pleasant Grove ... Pratt City ... St. Clair County ... Dekalb ...
For once, the hyperbole doesn't match what actually happened.

One other thing: I Tweeted late last night about my fear that this storm will become "The Tuscaloosa Tornado," much like the way Katrina became associated with New Orleans (when it hit Mississippi just as hard), or 9/11 is associated with New York (even though the attack was also in Washington and a plane crash-landed in Pennsylvania).
Look, I love Tuscaloosa, probably as much as anyone. My buddy Peter and I used to eat at that Milo's every Tuesday; by the time we graduated it was actually a weekly appointment. No one wants to help Tuscaloosa more than I do.
It's just that too many areas need help at the moment. There's a swath literally all the way across the state in need of prayer, donations and time.
So yeah, pray for Tuscaloosa. Pray for the whole state. We're hurting today.

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