April 28, 2011
When I woke up Thursday morning, I was fortunate to have my home, my family and my life. The tornadoes had just missed my area. I thank God for this. That morning I got my kids ready for school, they ate their breakfast and I dropped them off at school. When I returned home I knew I had a ton of photos to edit and many deadlines to meet. As I sat down at my desk and stared at my computer screen, it all seemed irrelevant to me. I started thinking off all the people just thirty minutes from my city who lost their homes and their lives. My heart told me what I needed to do.
I loaded the trunk of my car with bottled water, food and clothing and drove to Phil Campbell. When I approached the city limits police officials had the entrance blocked and were only allowing medical services to enter. There were people who had family members that lived there and were yelling at the police officer to please just let them in. Everyone was upset and felt helpless. I turned my car around and headed back down the highway. I, myself, felt helpless. I wanted to donate these items, I wanted to volunteer, I wanted to just do something! At that moment, my heart who had told me what I needed to do, told me what to do next. I found an alternate road into Phil Campbell.
When I reached the end of the road I approached a small neighborhood. I was not prepared for what I was about to see or experience. All the homes were gone. All of them. Nothing left but piles of rubble and memories. People were walking around with garbage bags gathering what personal items they could find. Children were picking up their toys. I could hear one little girl say to her mom, "I found my other sock!" So there I was and I asked myself "Now, Amanda what are you going to do?" Again, I felt helpless.
I found a drop off location for my donations and like many others I began just walking down the streets of the neighborhood. I wanted to find someone that I could help. I had my camera with me as I always do. I was hesitant to even take it out of the case. Who was I to walk around taking pictures of these poor devastated tornado victims with my big fancy camera when they had lost everything? I knew these people had a story to be told but was it my place to document it? My questions were all answered when I met Jimmy Adams and his daughter Alexis. He begin telling me his story. He pointed to the only door left standing of his house and said "You see that door, it leads to the hallway. That's where we were when the tornado hit our home." Jimmy began telling me in detail what his family experienced. In the house was Jimmy along with his wife, and Alexis plus his eight year old son and 14 month old baby. They all survived and he was just happy to be alive. It brought me brought me to tears! A journalist approached with a television camera and asked to interview him. He agreed. He wanted to tell the people of the world what he went through. When the interview was over it was at that point I asked him if I could take a photo of him and his daughter. Again he agreed. My heart then told me at that moment that this is what I was here to do.
I met a lady named Linda Cummings who had lived in her home with her mother since she was a child. They've always just had each other and now that's all they had. She told me how her and her 80 year old mother held each other tight repeating the words "I love you, I love you" over and over again as the tornado violently shook her home. She described how the strong winds from the tornado took her breath away and left her in fear of her life. Her eyes filled with tears and she said "I never want anyone, ANYONE to come that close to losing their lives!" I hugged her for what seemed like a lifetime as she cried on my shoulder. I shared her tears and felt her pain.
I met so many families that day. Some I photographed, some I didn't. I spoke to a Hispanic family who had lost their uncle. His body was found a few feet away from the very wheelchair he would sit in. Just when I thought I had heard and seen it all, someone yells "There's a body under this tree!". I walked over to where the EMTs and ambulance were. A man's body was being recovered from underneath a massive tree that had fallen to the ground. I still had my camera in my hand and was very hesitant to take a photo. I debated with this thought in my head over and over again. I closed my eyes, snapped the shutter and walked away. I prayed to God to forgive me if I had done something morally wrong. A few feet away was an American flag torn and twisted around the branch of a tree. As I took that very photo everything I had seen that day brought me to my knees.
I believe God put it in my heart to go to the little town of Phil Campbell that day. I pray these images I share with you tell the story of Jimmy and Alexis Adams, Linda Cummings and the thousands of families who lost everything they had and who's lives will be changed forever.
How to donate:
REDCROSS to 90999 and a $10 donation
American Red Cross
P O Box 37243
Washington, DC 20013
Alabama Statewide Volunteer Call Center