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Scattered Across Ala. City: Broken Homes, Memories

The Linwood neighborhood in Tuscaloosa, Ala., was pulverized by the nation's deadliest tornado outbreak in nearly four decades.
Debbie Elliott
The Linwood neighborhood in Tuscaloosa, Ala., was pulverized by the nation's deadliest tornado outbreak in nearly four decades.

The sheer magnitude of the destruction in Tuscaloosa, Ala., is difficult to comprehend until you are here and can see street after street reduced to rubble — homes, stores, warehouses, parks. President Obama acknowledged the scope as he toured some of the areas hardest hit by this week's storm.

"I've never seen devastation like this," he said. "It is heartbreaking."

Obama visited with storm victims in Alberta City, an area that suffered a high death toll. Most of the community was flattened. He told survivors they would get federal help.

"I want to just make a commitment to the communities here that we are going to do everything we can to help these communities rebuild," he said.

No Words To Describe

In the Linwood neighborhood, not far from the president's tour, mockingbirds sing from fallen tree limbs and there's the distant sound of chainsaws.

Residents are still trying to figure out just what hit their quaint street.

"That door came from somebody else's house and it's on my bed!" said Debbie McGlone, a teacher who has lived in her house since she was 6 years old. It's unlivable now; the roof was ripped away.

"Even now it's strange," she said. "When we're working in the bedrooms, I'll think it's so bright in here, and I'll look at see the sky and think — Man! I don't know how to describe it."

She says it's hard to find words that express what the town has lost.

"It's like looking at a dead person and there's that body that you're so familiar with and emotionally attached to, and you have all these sentimental memories about," she said, "and you think they can't be dead. And that's how this is."

As McGlone and her niece work to salvage what they can, a group of employees from the nearby Target come by with grocery carts full of water and other provisions.

Church groups and National Guard troops have also been coming through the neighborhood, offering to help.

Looking To The Future

Next door, Phillip Farley's Farmers Insurance agent, Amy Corbin, is sorting through the rubble for keepsakes.

Farley said he is glad the president came to see the damage firsthand.

"Maybe he can see what's going on, so he'll know how to help us," he said.

Farley said he thinks it's time to look to the future.

"A lot of people were hurt and killed. And they will be missed. The ones who are here will live on, and we'll rebuild," he said. "We'll be better than we were before. I think this neighborhood will turn out really good when it's over, because we got a lot of good neighbors. I remember after the storm, we walked out in the middle of the street and said, 'I can't believe we're all here.' "

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

NPR National Correspondent Debbie Elliott can be heard telling stories from her native South. She covers the latest news and politics, and is attuned to the region's rich culture and history.