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Stratford Gazebo

The Student News Site of Stratford Academy

Stratford Gazebo

The Student News Site of Stratford Academy

Stratford Gazebo

Stratford teacher recalls deadly Alabama tornadoes

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Stratford Spanish teacher Aimee Grisham was a student at the University of Alabama when the tornadoes ripped through Tuscaloosa, one of the deadliest tornado outbreaks in U.S. history.


By CARLY WANNA, Gazebo Editor

Five years ago, Aimee Grisham sat in a science lab at the University of Alabama, along with her classmates, cramming in facts about meiosis and reproduction before her biology exam.

A few minutes before the test, it was announced that all finals for the rest of the day were canceled due to severe weather.

It was every student’s dream.

Grisham, now a first-year Spanish teacher at Stratford, felt blessed by her good fortune, thanking her lucky stars for the miracle.

On that spring afternoon, Ms. Grisham could not have known that day would bring 62 tornadoes to her state. She could not have known that 139 people would die from the same weather that canceled her exams, including six University of Alabama students. She could not have known that day, April 27, 2011, would bring one of the largest super-tornado outbreaks in U.S. history.

Aimee Grisham is a first year Spanish teacher. She was a freshman at the University of Alabama-Tuscaloosa when the deadly 2011 tornado hit.

Grisham and others were ushered into a lecture hall to wait out the tornado warning. Teachers threatened students with 200 hours of community service if they attempted to leave the building. The National Weather Service continually extended the warning.

Eventually, students became concerned with the weather conditions, and began tracking the progress of the storm.

“The tornados, they said, were headed for downtown Tuscaloosa which is not that far from the campus,” said Grisham. “That was the last thing that we heard, and then all the power went out.”

The students in the lecture hall could not fully understand the magnitude of the storms until they were released from the room. Following her mother’s advice, Grisham went to the vending machines, bought snacks and water, and joined up with friends.

The destruction devastated survivors. Tornadoes had ripped through previously developed areas of town, bringing $2.4 billion worth of damage. While many feared that chaos would break out, Grisham noted the opposite case. She commented that community came together in the face of the tragedy. She and her friends attempted to go downtown to help with the aid, but there were so many volunteers, Grisham and her group were turned away.

“The biggest takeaways I had from my experience were how important it is to be aware of extreme weather warnings and to be conscious of the safest places to be,” said Grisham.

Although Friday was a clear morning at Stratford, with hardly a cloud in the sky, the school participated in a statewide tornado drill by the Georgia Emergency Management Agency as part of Severe Weather Preparedness Week.

Students and faculty were instructed on where to go and what to do in the event of severe weather. There are varying protocols, depending on the presence of windows. No matter where they are, students are advised to duck and cover to avoid flying debris that may result from an actual tornado.

Grisham said being in an actual storm changed the ways she looked at emergency preparedness. Before, drills were just a way to get out of class. Now, her perspective is not quite the same.

Sitting in the lecture hall that afternoon five years ago, Grisham finally picked up reception on her cell phone and called her mom.

“I called her because we weren’t agreeing about something silly, and I wanted to make sure that she knew that I loved her in case something happened because I didn’t know where the tornado was coming,” said Grisham. “I thought it was coming to campus. Just make sure that everyone you love knows that you love them if something bad was going to happen.”

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Stratford teacher recalls deadly Alabama tornadoes