FIVE YEARS LATER: FILMING A TRAGEDY
Note: This story, and many others on the April 27, 2011, tornado, aired during WVUA 23’s 1 and a half hour special program “Faces of the Storm” on April 27, 2016. If you’d like to watch the whole series, click here.
Brad Lawrence knew he and his home in northeast Tuscaloosa were in the path of the April 27, 2011, EF4 tornado when he saw the horizon vanish.
“We were just kind of sitting there,” he said. “Next thing you know, one of the largest tornadoes in history is bearing down on us.”
Wanting nothing but to protect himself and the friend who was with him, he thought fast, and kept the camera going.
<p><a href=”#”>BRAD LAWRENCE’S TORNADO VIDEO</a></p><p><p>Click <a href=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=94lkLexflMo”>HERE </a>to watch on YouTube. Video embedding is disabled. Warning: Language.</p></p>
“We kind of made a quick plan about where we were going to go what we were going to do,” he said. “You can see in the video actually, there’s a tree. … As soon as that point disappeared, we all ran down stairs and took a bunch of couch cushions off the couch and we threw those over the top of us and just kind of held on.”
Lawrence said he’s no stranger to stress, and credited his cool demeanor during the storm to his history of high-pressure jobs.
“I know the one thing you can’t do in an emergency situation is freak out,” he said. “That’s one of the biggest comments on the videos online is, ‘You guys are so calm. You guys are so calm.’ I’m like, well, freaking out isn’t going to do anything for anyone.”
Lawrence and his friend were spared that day, but his home was severely damaged.
“It was only about 20-30 seconds,” he said. “The roar was one of the scariest things. It sounded like a train coming directly at you, and then all of the sudden it was just over. This loud deafening noise just stopped.”
Lawrence said that as soon as he realized he and his friend were OK, he emerged from what was left of his home and began helping those not as fortunate.
“My immediate thoughts were to make sure nobody was coming to check on me because I’m fine,” he said. “They need to stay where they are and check on my neighbors and make sure they are OK.”
It wasn’t until Lawrence ventured out of his neighborhood and into the heart of the devastation that he realized Tuscaloosa would never be the same.
“When you get out and this area that you’ve been living in for years is completely and totally changed, it’s freaky,” he said. “I remember after I did get out after the tornado and we got the house boarded up and everything, I was starting to go check on my other friends driving around in some other neighborhoods and just pulling over and bawling, because I had no clue where I was and this is the town that I grew up in. That’s one of the scariest things. I was lost in my own town.”
Although nothing can bring back the lives lost that day, every groundbreaking, every reopening, every new business announcement has brought back a piece of joy to Lawrence and so many others who call Tuscaloosa home.
“After major destruction, there’s rebuilding and growth,” Lawrence said. “It’s part of nature, it’s part of life. You know, it’s neat to see it rebuild itself bigger and better.”
Today, Lawrence stresses the importance of preparedness, using himself as testimony. He said he sometimes wonders if his fate would have been different had he not had a severe weather plan in place that day.
“I think the most important thing about this is to just get the message out there that this is happening,” he said. “You can’t just stock up on food and drink and say OK, I’m ready to go. It’s being prepared 24 hours a day, having a plan.”