In Rosedale: 'What little we have left, they took'By Hannah Mask | 05/01/2011 6:57pm
Losing a little may not seem that bad. Unless that’s all you had to start with.
As Wednesday’s tornado neared Rosedale Court, a poverty-stricken Tuscaloosa housing authority community located on 10th Avenue, Rose Roberts, 53, prayed to God to keep her family safe.
“God told me to get out of the bed and go look out of the door,” she said. “I saw it, and I said, ‘Lord, it’s coming, Lord, it’s coming.’”
Keith Roberts, Rose’s 29-year-old son, got his mother and 26-year-old sister on the floor as the tornado came closer.
“He got our heads covered,” Rose said. “We laid there praying.
“If God tells you to do something, you better listen.”
On day four after the tornado, Keith still bears an open wound on his right wrist, but he doesn’t know how he got it. He just knows his legs were trapped under the hallway wall after it collapsed.
The family was buried in the rubble for about 20 minutes until one of their neighbors dug them out.
“Seeing his face was just a great relief,” Rose said.
But outside of the rubble, there were screams for help, and Rose said her mind went blank.
“It was so sad to see those babies,” she said of people who lost their lives on her street. “I saw an arm sticking out, but there was no body attached to it.”
Leaving the ruins, they headed toward the plasma center on 10th Avenue. A van picked them up and transported them to Belk, where they were temporarily housed along with many others from their community.
There were so many people seeking shelter, Keith said, Belk ran out of beds. Twice.
They returned the next day to try to salvage some of their clothing and other possessions, but looters had already all but cleared the area of anything they might have saved.
“What little we did have left, they took,” Keith said.
Though Rose retains her positive attitude, she can’t help but question what would make someone steal from those who have so few things to begin with.
“I can’t understand, in the name of God, why people would steal like that,” she said. “They’ll get theirs, that’s for sure. You just don’t steal from people like that.”
But her optimistic outlook is still sometimes compromised by what she experienced during and after the storm.
“Sometimes I cry,” she said. “But I cry in the bathroom or somewhere away from my children. I can’t let my children see me crying.”
As the Roberts settled into their temporary shelter in Belk, 54-year-old Marion Conner slept in her house—one of the few left standing—in hopes of preventing looters from stealing more of her possessions just hours after the tornado.
“Our property was outside, and people were already taking it,” she said. “The fire department said it would be safe for us to stay there, so we did.”
However, other families in the community have lost much more.
“People were yelling for a boy named Justin,” Conner said. “We found him a day or so after in the morgue. He was blown out of his house. He was 14.”
Justin Leeric Thomas of the 2900 block of 10th Avenue east was found dead at 440 30th Place, almost four miles away.
Conner said her son was home when the tornado hit; she was working her job at Penny Profit Cleaners on 15th Street.
“He heard the tornado siren and told the other people at the house to take cover,” she said. “The dog and the back of the house blew away, so he ran back in and flipped the couch over and hid behind it, and the windows started busting.”
When the tornado passed, there were people screaming all over, Conner’s son said.
“He started pulling women and children out of the rubble,” Conner said.
Now, they’re working to put their life back together.
“We’re working till we’re exhausted everyday,” she said. “Then we find somewhere to get a hot shower and lay our heads down, and then we start it all over again.”
A couple of days after the tornado, Conner’s 28-year-old daughter—who lives in California—found a Facebook group dedicated to returning photos and documents discovered after the tornado to their original owners.
“She called and said, ‘I was just online and I found this website, and the third photo they have is of you,” Conner said. “The photo she saw was found about 80 miles away.
“They’ve found three more photos since then, and they were up to 100 miles away. They were all over the state. My daughter is getting them mailed back to me.”
For now, Conner’s family is displaced and living in separate locations, but like Rose, she appreciates what she has left.
“We’ve got life, we’re OK,” she said. “We’re blessed to be alive. The rest doesn’t matter.”
Waiting for FEMA, Rose sat with her son in salvaged chairs near the road on Sunday; they said they were nothing but happy to be alive.
“We’ll be all right,” Rose said, smiling. “Many people can’t see that.”