Listening to the Storm #3-- "Do I have to call the President?"

Apr 25, 2013

Alabama Public Radio is collaborating with the Westervelt-Warner Transportation Museum on an oral history project connected the second anniversary of the tornado that hit Tuscaloosa on April 27, 2011. APR edited the audio for the exhibit called “Listening to the Storm.” Here’s a preview with the remembrances of Tuscaloosa Mayor Walter Maddox… “One of the really poignant memories I have is, sometime in the afternoon hours we saw live on television a tornado go through Coleman and I remember thinking ‘gosh that poor mayor.’ You know here it is, he’s having to watch a tornado go through his town and it looks like the destruction is pretty heavy. I really you know I really feel sorry for him and the challenges he’s going to face and then around that time I can’t remember who in the command center said, “we’ll look at the storm coming out of the southwest meridian” and it appeared to be you know a red dot on a otherwise map filled with some green and the real line of thunderstorms was supposedly about a hundred miles behind that and um for some reason it caught my attention and as the next few minutes passed that dot kind of kept of bull eyeing in on Tuscaloosa. The National Weather Service then began issuing tornado warnings and then it became apparent that that super cell thunderstorm was heading toward our city and we left here and went down University Boulevard and the power was out but you know it didn’t look like anything was wrong and we cut across Hilliard and all of the sudden you couldn’t get across there and it look like just this mass exodus of people… bleeding… walking toward you and then you could see the destruction across the railroad line and you got a real sense of how bad this is. You didn’t know how deep it was, but you know something terrible had really happened and I remember looking in the eyes of the students that were walking that were coming across and it was as if they were zombies and that was my first real sense that okay this is this is not April 15 (when a previous tornado struck.) We turn around and get back on University and we try we get to the overpass on Kicker Road… University boulevard and Kicker Road there we can see the full southwest northeast destruction of the tornado and it was my first real sense of, ‘O my God.’ Quite frankly, it brought me literally almost to my knees because I had realized at that point that the sense of devastation I knew from the reports that I was hearing from command that we were asset depleted and even if we were not it would still be an enormous challenge and I just asked at that point Chad who is a minister who is normally not assigned to our office I said, ‘Chad will you just pray for us.’ The President’s staff gave us a number to call at the White House if we needed anything. Well somehow that story morphed that I got the Presidents cell phone number and the reason that that story came out is that when the President and I were riding back from the airport, my phone kept ringing and I apologized that I had somehow switched it from vibrate to ringer when we were at Holt and he said well can I see your phone and I handed the President my phone and it was a Blackberry at the time and he was looking through and then he said, “Well here is mine” and he showed me his blackberry and somehow I had shared that story with somehow that story translated into I had his cell phone number which I didn’t, but representatives from FEMA believed I had his cell phone number so every time I felt like the city wasn’t getting anything I said, ‘Do I have to call the President.’ Now I wouldn’t have called his cell phone because I don’t know that number but it did it did help us in recovery you us in recovery in working with the federal government in recovery you use every tool and still today twenty three months later you still have to use every single tool.”