CORDOVA, AL (WLOX) - Seeing Mother Nature's destructive force in Alabama has been a surreal experience, not only as a reporter, but as a viewer. I guess it is true, watching destruction on TV is one thing, but when you see it in person, it's even more unbelievable.
But before I talk about the catastrophe around me, let me tell you how I ended up covering one of the biggest and saddest stories so far this year.
My news director, Brad Kessie, called me a couple of hours after the storm and the multiple tornados hit the Southern area. He asked if weekend anchor Terrance Friday and I would drive across the tornado-ravaged state to report on the devastation.
For some reason, I jumped at the chance to face debris, destruction, and death. I guess after going through Hurricane Katrina and losing almost everything, I could relate to the thousands of victims who now feel hopeless and homeless. I rushed home, packed my bags and the next morning drove to Alabama to capture the aftermath of the killer storm for the viewers.
It took Terrance and me about seven hours to get to our destination, and during the ride, our eyes were glued to the mess from Mother Nature. We also listened to reporter after reporter on the radio, telling us that the death toll was climbing and debris was everywhere.
While listening and reflecting on the families that had lost loved ones, my news director texted me with my assignment: Cordova, Alabama in Walker County. I had to look twice at the text because I had never heard of that area in Alabama. Terrance put the city in his GPS system and we just hoped for the best.
As we drove into town, our mouths opened in shock, and all we could do was stare in amazement. There were dozens and dozens of uprooted trees across the city, cars on top of each other, and homes with no roofs or windows.
When we got to the heart of Cordova, the site was 10 times worse; Cordova looked like a war zone. The emergency management team for the county told me that more than 10 people had died in the county, and I could believe it because of the widespread damage.
I talked to a couple of citizens who were just walking around outside in a daze because many had no power, no homes, and no cars.
One lady said, "This used to be Cordova and now it is just memories."
Another guy walked up to me and said in a sad voice, "In my 43 years, I have never seen anything like this and I hate this happened to my town."
From that point, I knew that the folks here were hurting so much more than I thought. But even in the midst of all this destruction, the citizens were still friendly and some even remained in high spirits.
Terrance even commented, "If I had lost everything, I am not sure if I would be so optimistic."
These tornado victims taught us a major lesson today; when you lose everything, you still hope.
Editor's Note: Patrice Clark, Terrance Friday, as well as photojournalists Eric Lewis and Bobby Allen are in Alabama helping cover the storm aftermath for WLOX News and our Raycom Media sister stations across the country.