By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
America’s most beloved Catholic communications network was spared the devastation caused by a massive tornado outbreak that roared through several states yesterday, leaving at least 202 people dead.
According to Michelle Johnson, director of communications for the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN), said the network was spared any damage other than some felled trees. While she expects that the storm affected the lives of many of the network’s employees, the facility survived the storm intact.
“It was like a passover,” she said, referring to the widespread devastation left behind after one of the worst tornado outbreaks in U.S. history struck Birmingham yesterday and left an estimated 30 people dead.
Birmingham Mayor William Bell told the Morning Edition that the Pratt City area of Birmingham had been “totally devastated [and] several other surrounding neighborhoods … have also been heavily damaged.”
He said whole neighborhoods of housing were completely gone. “Churches, gone. Businesses, gone. I’m not talking about just roofs being blown off, but just completely gone.”
The heavily populated area “seems like a bomb has been dropped on it,” he said. “Where buildings once stood, toothpick-sized wood shreds are there now.”
More than 164 tornado sightings were reported in Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and southern Tennessee. Meteorologists are still trying to discern how many of the twisters actually touched down.
Some of the most catastrophic damage took place in Tuscaloosa, the home of the University of Alabama, where an EF-5 tornado, the strongest to ever hit the area, touched down around 6:00 p.m. EDT. The city’s mayor, Walt Maddox, confirmed that at least 36 people were killed and more than 100 injured in the storm.
There was no damage to the University, but large portions of the surrounding area were devastated.
Gerald Ross, a Tuscaloosa resident, told The Crimson White that he and his family were in their kitchen cooking supper when the tornado hit.
“We were watching the coverage of the storm on the television when my son said, ‘Dad, there’s debris flying around outside,’” Ross said. “We all immediately ran down into the basement to take cover.”
No sooner did they reach the basement when they heard debris hitting the side of the house, windows breaking and the “freight train sound” so typical of tornadoes.
“We could hear it destroying everything outside,” said Ross’ wife, Jannie.
When the family came out of the basement, what they saw was unbelievable. Debris from the homes of neighbors and downed trees littered their yard.
“There’s stuff here I’ve never seen before,” she said. “I don’t know what half of this stuff in my backyard is or who it belongs to.”
The death toll is expected to rise as workers continue to sift through the wreckage. Experts fully expect yesterday’s tornado outbreak to surpass the deadliest day on record for the U.S., which occurred on April 3, 1974 when 310 people lost their lives.
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Photo of tornado damage to Pratt City by Butch Dill of the Associated Press.