Thursday, April 28, 2011

"My" Cullman, "My" State

 Growing up, I thought Cullman was super lame. Nothing to do, no shopping mall, no activities for kids my age – all we had was our 3-movie theater and a bowling alley. Some hung out at the old train depot, some in the high school parking lot, and some chose to “cruise” up and down US 31 on weekends. You would see at least 10 people you knew in the Dairy Queen after church on Sunday nights, or at Denny’s on a Friday after the football game. There wasn’t really anything open past 9:00 (until the Wal Mart super center was built at least). Even though we were bored, we lived in a town with no heavy crime and no heavy drugs or alcohol abuse. We could feel safe leaving our front doors unlocked, and having your kids ride up and down the street on their bikes to a neighbors house without fear of them getting kidnapped. It was a great place to raise a family, and I’m so glad looking back that it’s where my parents decided to raise the Malone brood.

Cullman, being the small town that it was, never got much attention, especially national attention. In the past few years, you may have noticed Cullman in the movie Bruno (where he goes “camping” with some good ole boys), or on youtube for a famous “commercial” spoof that has 2.5 million hits (watch it here, it’s actually pretty funny). It was never on CNN’s breaking news, never trending on Twitter, and videos of Cullman were never shown on news channels around the globe.

On April 27, 2011, that all changed.

Around 3pm, I logged on to twitter (you can follow my random boring tweets at @marymm if you so desire.) An old friend of mine tweeted “Tornado emergency for Cullman. Officially freaking out.” I logged onto James Spann’s TV station on Ustream and watched the Cullman skycam live, which showed a monster tornado ripping through downtown. I watched this thing literally destroy my city, sitting helplessly in my office chair 650 miles away.
*Side note*…. in the words of one of my best friends Kate: James Spann, I miss you. Part of me is glad you haven't moved to a national outlet when you so obviously deserve it. But I am glad you are still in north Alabama. We love you.”   No truer words ever spoken my friend!
I took a video of my computer screen as it was happening...if you turn the volume way up, you can hear James Spann as he describes the tornado hitting the courthouse and First Baptist Church.
What is being reported as of late is 3 tornadoes tore through downtown Cullman. Literally from one end to the other.

 The Cullman regional hospital got hit. The Courthouse basement doors where people took shelter were split from the hinges as the roof was being torn off. The First Baptist Church’s steeple was pulled apart and the back of the building ripped open. My home church, First United Methodist, looks like a haunted house with the windows blown out and the roof gone. A popular local café, the Busy Bee, had its roof cave in, reportedly trapping people inside. Everything within blocks of these structures had all their windows blown out too, and some of the old, historic buildings downtown just crumbled to the ground like a pile of bricks. 

 Before you know it, CNN is reporting Cullman’s tornadic activity on their breaking news feed. Cullman was the 5th highest trending topic on Twitter. As I watched the local Tampa Bay news last night, videos of MY hometown were being shown. Terrifying videos and photos start to surface on social media outlets of the monster tornado and all it’s damage.

Here is a video of the damage from a local news station:

Here's another video of Cullman destruction from James Spann:

Amazing aerial footage to put it in perspective:

More aerial footage: 

Aerial Photo:

To give you another angle, here are some before/after pictures:

I am pretty sure this was Vincent's furniture...the entire brick top of the building is gone compared to the photo below.
Vincent's Furniture, before the Tornado

First United Methodist Church 

Church after Tornado - windows blown out, roof blown off

A closer view of the church
This store was called "Little Bit of Everthing" - AKA "Little Bit" store. It was in an old Ford Dealer building - they covered the Ford logos with bricks on the upper facade after he store opened.

Little Bit store now - all the bricks were knocked off the top, showing the old Ford signs

Little Bit store again, crumbled to the ground.

Many of my friends and acquaintances have been directly affected, and are stranded without power and gas, and some no longer have homes at all.

And this is only the beginning. A tornado just as big ripped through downtown Tuscaloosa a little over an hour after it hit Cullman, staying on the ground for over 100 miles all the way to metro Birmingham, where it grew to 1 ½ miles wide. It left a trail of destruction that could be compared to the Tokyo earthquake.

 Cullman is a very unique and special town to anyone that lives there or has ever lived there, and I believe that anyone from the area would call it “their” city, or “their” Cullman. These aren’t just buildings and structures to these folks – this is their history, their century-old family businesses, their way of life, their childhood, their homes, their everything. That is MY history and MY childhood, being shown on CNN in ruins. I’ve never felt so unnerved, helpless and just plain heartbroken.

Power and damaged transmission lines could take 7-9 days to repair and restore power to the city. Cell towers and radio towers have been destroyed. The president has called for a state of emergency, and federal help is on the way, however so much needs to be done locally. I’ve seen a few notes already about volunteers being called to help in the area, and seen pages on facebook for donations through Toomers for Tuscaloosa and also sites such as American Red Cross – click on the icon below for more info. 

Keep your eyes peeled as the days go on for updates and other ways to help and volunteer, but I’d be just fine with only a few prayers for my Cullman, and for my State. 

If you have any stories, updates on the city of Cullman or the state of Alabama, links to pictures, videos, or any updates on ways to volunteer, please comment below and share!!  

Here are a few other links I've found that have pictures of other very hard hit areas, including Birmingham and Tuscaloosa:

Here is a link showing a compiled list of videos for the Tuscaloosa tornado:

Here's a link to photos from all the way down in Lake Martin, near Montgomery/Auburn : 

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Starting Line - On your mark, get set...

My first blog post ever! Wow, I never imagined I would succumb to the blogging world. But alas, here I am, in all my social networking glory.

Hey there - I'm Mary Margaret. People now mostly just call me Mary. I was raised in the small town of Cullman, AL and that's where I call home.....even though it's not so small anymore (They now have a big movie theater, and even a Chick Fil A and a TJ Maxx.)  The Cullman I know is a small tight-knit community, where people are born, raised, and come back to raise children of their own. Where stores don't open on Sunday until 1:00 so you can go to church, and where the nearest package store is 30 miles outside the city, as well as the nearest shopping mall being an hour away. Where the movie theater only holds 3 movies, none of which were ever anything good it seemed, and where the county fair gets it's own big parade up and down US 31. To me, that will always be home.

 I am the oldest of three - My mom still lives in Cullman, while my sister Rachel lives in Calgary with her husband, and my brother Dallas is in the US Air Force and stationed at Moody AFB. The good Lord took my dad in December of 2006, after a battle with liver cancer, but somehow it made our family even stronger.I'm sure I will dedicate a posting to my dad in the near future :)

My boyfriend, Prateek, is one smart cookie and helps run one of his family business facilities down here in Florida. He's 11 years my senior, which isn't really a big deal unless you think about the fact that he was graduating college with his Chemical Engineering degree when I was 11 years old and in the 5th grade learning long division and fractions.

For lack of better terminology, I am addicted to running. I started going to a 5K running club with some friends back in April last year, and had never ran more than a few miles consecutively. In June last year, I signed up for my first half marathon. Now, one year later, I've completed 3 half marathons, 3 10Ks, countless 5Ks and have my sights on the full 26.2 at some point within the next year. Running allows me to clear my mind, stay in shape, be happy - plus I can eat as much ice cream as I want and only feel slightly guilty about it! Running makes me feel alive, and there's no better feeling than how I feel after a long run. 

Unfortunately, running is also one of the most harsh sports for the joints - my left knee is currently angry at me for all this running I've done in the last year, so I haven't been able to lace up the Aasics for a solid month now....and I am about to go bat crazy! But more on that later.

I decided to name my blog after running, not only in the literal sense but because I am always hyper, going around doing something. I feel like I can never sit still -- if I had the choice of going on a vacation to a tropical island oasis to lay at the beach all day, or going on a cross country hike through a rainforest, I wouldn't think twice and start shopping for hiking boots. If I ever have a spare few minutes, I try to find something to do instead of just sitting down to relax - it's not on purpose, but I catch myself doing it all the time.  Who knows where the energy comes from, but as long as I have it I'm going to take advantage!

For the most part, I want to use this blog as a way to express myself, take a time out and reflect on what's happening. Sometimes I feel like my life just flies by, and I don't want to forget the little things.  I figure it's also a good way to let people in on what's going on with me - I've always loved writing, and sometimes there are dilemmas, questions, or experiences that I have that I'd love to get out in the open and maybe get some feedback on. Whether its a criticism, encouraging word, or just a comment to say how crazy or ridiculous (or awesome!) I am, I'd love to hear it!