Alberta – It’s all gone

Published 6:28 pm Friday, April 29, 2011

Since Wednesday, like most of us, we have been glued to news channels and the Internet witnessing the aftermath of the tornado that left a wide track of despair and destruction across the South.

Faye’s hometown of Tuscaloosa, Ala., and particularly the neighborhoods where she grew up, took the hardest hits.

Fortunately, our nieces and cousins survived. Had Faye’s mother still been living, her fate may have been different.

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For the past 45 years, I have been familiar with the Alberta neighborhood of Tuscaloosa, traveling there several times a year to visit the in-laws. Their old home was in Alberta, but we couldn’t determine yet its fate. Alberta Methodist Church, site of their Sundays and our wedding, reportedly suffered damage. The neighborhoods surrounding these locations really took a devastating hit.

Faye, her sister, and our nieces traded information on Facebook. Our daughter from Tallahassee was on line with her cousins as they attempted to assess damages and be sure everyone was safe.

At one point, one of our nieces wrote—“Alberta. It’s all gone.”

On Thursday and Friday, looking at photographs and videos that were on the Internet, we searched to recognize familiar landmarks in the Alberta section.

There were none.

The tornado barely missed Denny Stadium at the University of Alabama, just a few blocks away from the Alberta neighborhood. The big commercial street, McFarland Boulevard intersected with 15th Street, another major street, where only a few blocks away, Faye’s mother’s house would have been. We all were thankful she no longer was here to witness the destruction to her city, perhaps even to her former home.

At this intersection is the University Mall. Across the street is additional high-end retail including shops, restaurants and a Barnes & Noble bookstore. All heavily damaged.

A CVS pharmacy on one corner and a bank on another, all heavily damaged. Helicopter photos of the Alberta area show neighborhood sections of total destruction, a collection of older frame homes reduced to stacks of wood among fallen trees and overturned vehicles.

Faye’s sister, Brenda, wrote on her Facebook message—“Mother’s area is gone. Our beloved Alberta is mostly gone. Our birth-homes are gone. Rosedale heavily damaged. Forest Lake heavily damaged. Every thing that was part of our youth and the last years of our parent’s lives, is gone.”

Rosedale was a housing authority group of apartments. A large complex of buildings. Photographs show most of it obliterated.

Forest Lake is a nearby neighborhood. We recognized the lake. The rest was toothpicks. The city’s mayor described it as “destroyed.”

In a news conference on Thursday, the youthful mayor described the devastation of his city and the restoration work which had to be done. The President was due on Friday, and the mayor said he would ask him for the full measure of help from the federal government and the full measure of help from any source which would offer.

On its website, The Tuscaloosa News has several slide shows of photos of the devastation. Watching these photos, the areas described held familiar names, but the landmarks of recognition were gone. I knew the streets and the neighborhoods, but as our niece reported, it’s all gone.

The storm was reported to have made more than a thousand-mile trip through Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee, all the way into Virginia, leaving more than 300 fatalities and creating untold devastation.

The destruction was monumental. It was billed as the second largest outbreak of tornadoes in 60 years, probably the worst in history.

“The spirit of our people will get us through this,” the mayor said. He was inspired by the hundreds volunteers who wanted to help.

Just off 15th Street just a block from the corner of heavy combat, is a street named Southern Gardens. It is a small enclave of well cared-for garden homes, mostly senior citizens in residence. Faye and her sister and our daughter thought of mother and grandmother.

She would have been alone.

Jim Smith is a former editor of The Post-Searchlight. This and other columns may be accessed on his website: