The legacy of 27 April, 2011

Thursday 19th July 2012, 6.55pm (day 329)

Tornado legacy, 19/7/12

This is not a particularly ‘good’ photo in aesthetic or technical terms but it is the most meaningful picture I took today.

I said a few days ago that Tuscaloosa is not a very eventful place, and this is true generally, but an exception to the rule came on 27th April 2011 when it was hit by an utterly devastating tornado. 47 people died in the early evening of that day. I remember when I heard about it on the news, and the fact I had visited here previously and knew Angela (my research colleague) gave the disaster a personal dimension that it might not otherwise have had for many people. Angela, her husband, and their house, were all fine, but therein lies the scary nature of this particular natural phenomenon. Less than a third of a mile from her place – and we drove through these districts today as I went to dinner at her house – there were these scenes of total destruction, and I mean total. The narrow line that the storm took remains completely visible on the ground fifteen months later, marked by shattered trees and empty lots (like this one), even where houses literally on the other side of the street are OK.

What with my visit to New Orleans (still with visible signs of damage from Hurricane Katrina in 2005) and the Hebden Bridge floods I know I am developing a recurring ‘natural disaster’ theme here: but believe me, I don’t want to. I just have a sudden sense of the arbitrary power of these things. You can’t protest against it, can’t vote against it, can’t cancel it; it just happens, and it’s a terrible thing when it does. I’m not a particularly religious man but I guess this is why people sometimes feel the only response is just to pray.

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