It’s early morning on April 28, 2011 and the smell of pine consumes the air. All I hear are the sounds of chainsaws buzzing from all directions. The dirt road I walk along was covered by a dense forest yesterday. This morning however, there is only blue sky.
It’s been two days since I’ve slept, yet I am not the least bit tired. Maybe it’s the adrenalin or just the shock of seeing complete devastation. I’ve seen it many times before, but not in my own backyard and not under these circumstances. Just a few hours ago, I was climbing through a web of fallen trees and debris searching for a cabin that was no longer there.
On April 27, 2011 one of the largest tornado outbreaks in Alabama history swept through the state. As of this post there are over 230 deaths in Alabama alone. Tragically two of the deaths were the mother and aunt of a good friend of mine, David Woodall.
Earlier that day my wife, David and I were chasing a tornado near Birmingham when we learned of a tornado heading toward his mother’s cabin on Lake Martin. We immediately turned south and headed back to her cabin.
After several hours of of dodging more tornadoes we finally arrived at a road block near Lake Martin. With a little persuasion they allowed us to continue at our own risk. We managed to find our way around downed power lines and trees to the road where David’s mother lived. Several hundred yards before reaching the cabin we could go no further. Massive trees blocked the road and we had to continue on foot.
It was around midnight and we began climbing through the web of tangled trees trying to find the cabin. There was no road, no signs and no trees standing. Though David had been to the cabin thousands of times, he could not recognize where we were or where to go.
Along with a few friends and search and rescue teams we spent much of the early morning hours searching for his mother and aunt. My only light was a small LED flashlight and an iPhone. The search team setup a huge work light but it was too far away to cast any light near our search area. Unfortunately, the cabin took a direct hit from an EF-4 tornado and was completely blown away. Around 2:30 a.m. the search team found his mother. I proceeded out of the devastation to tell David using the eerie glow of the work light to find my way out. When daylight broke searchers found his aunt.
It’s taken me a week to decide about how to post these images, and I came to the conclusion to present them as I normally would. Photographs record a moment in history that will never occur again. Generally most people have pictures of birthdays, kids playing, and happier times. But life is not always happy and unfortunately can be tragic. “Falling Man” is a good example. As horrific as the image is, it reminds us of what happened on September 11, 2001.
I went to the visitation of David’s mother (Becky ‘Bebeck’ Woodall) and aunt (Alice Lee). Each had a large board with pictures from their seventy plus years in life. The photographs provided a great history of their lives and even if you didn’t know them, the photos gave you a glimpse of how much they enjoyed life.
The images below document my personal experience on April 27-28, 2011. They are a reminder that we are not in control and as Bebeck and Alice did, we should live each day to the fullest.
In Memory of Becky Woodall and Alice Lee.
To all the volunteers and friends who helped that night and with cleanup of the cabin.
Also to my friend David and his family who has been there for us, especially when there is an Officer Campbell involved.