Tuscaloosa, Alabama April 27, 2011. The tornado touched down behind Bryant Denny Stadium. It’s a mile wide. Through concrete and glass I heard its shriek. Its dirty and unstable, a far cry from what I’ve seen on TV, yet I’m scared. A tornado never comes this close. I’m not supposed to be the victim. I walked downstairs and sat next to my residents; I’m a dorm resident advisor. Moments before I assured them we were safe. There was nothing to worry about. I felt like a liar, but something else overtook me. I was helpless in the face of destruction. This time it was worse. I wasn’t the one being saved. I was the one who was supposed to be in control. The one responsible for every child huddled together in the halls. I couldn’t bare the truth. If the tornado maintained its course, we would be next.
The next day… Snap! Electrical cords and power lines dip across the vestiges of a once bustling community. Snap! Police officers in dirty uniforms control the direction of traffic while urging onlookers to avoid the broken glass scattered across 15th street. Snap! I stood a few yards across the now defunct road examining the remnants of Mike and Ed’s BBQ. Their welcome sign was so violently bent it touches the yellow lines on the street. Snap! A young man stood over the remains of his 1997 Toyota. I remember the model from my father’s truck. The stench of something dead hits his nose. He throws up. Damn, I missed the shot. I tread to the highest point before 15th dips into devastation. Snap! A tattered flag hung from the remains of a black Hummer crumpled like a discarded wrapper. Flowers crawl from underneath the car. They look like victims crawling from the devastation. An elderly woman rests on a broken beam jutting into her front yard. Two others stare into the remains of a former household. Their roof was the sky. This could’ve been my belongings. My memories. My home. As I frame the scene, adjusting the skyline to highlight the contrast between negative space and the field of flattened houses peppering the landscape, I need to stop…
On April 27th, 2011 Tuscaloosa, AL was hit with a large, violent EF4 tornado that caused 2.2 billion damages and killed sixty-four residents. Still, through the rubble the residents of my home state moved towards rebuilding the day after. It’s the resiliency of America, the way we, as a state, came together to help one another that makes me proud on this day, July 4th, that I’m a citizen of The United States of America. To see more photos go HERE and HERE.
Watch the documentary, Portrait of the Storm: Tuscaloosa, AL, I made in commemoration of the event.
About the Author –
Xavier Burgin is a filmmaker and photographer currently at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts.
Twitter: @XLNB & @QueTheLights
We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.
– Martin Luther King, Jr.