By Brendan Loy
Very lucky, as this excellent graphic from the front page of the Tuscaloosa News shows. Note the green area labeled “UA” — that’s the campus, and it just avoided a direct hit from the massive tornado that devastated Tuscaloosa:
As things stand, life at the university has been tremendously disrupted — power out, nearby buildings destroyed, some student housing damaged, final exams canceled, commencement postponed until August, even football season ticket sales delayed — but if the tornado had edged just slightly to the left (or if it had formed a little earlier, and grown to the size it was near Peterson while it was over Tuscaloosa), the campus would have been largely destroyed. Thank God that didn’t happen.
[UPDATE: Since I published this post, it has been confirmed that eight University of Alabama students died in the tornadoes. That's a tragic loss of life, and I hope my use of the term "lucky" doesn't seem flippant in light of the news. My point was simply that it could easily have been -- and almost was -- far, far worse for the university, given the utter devastation just blocks away.]
Here’s another map of storm tracks and death tolls. Of course, this stuff will get much more precise once the National Weather Service sorts it all out, but that will take time, and it’s helpful for us non-Alabamans to see these maps in order to get an initial idea of the disaster’s geography.
The death toll, incidentally, has officially passed 300, though the exact number is hard to pin down. The highest number I’ve seen reported is 313, which would clearly eclipse the Blizzard of 1993 or “Storm of the Century” (highest reported death toll 310; some reports much lower), and might or might not eclipse the Tornado Super Outbreak of 1974 (I’ve seen that toll variously reported as 310, 315 and 330). But the toll is still rising, of course, and the bottom line — as I’ve been saying since yesterday afternoon — is that Wednesday’s tornado outbreak will almost certainly end up as the fifth-deadliest U.S. disaster of any kind in the last 60 years, surpassing the Super Outbreak and trailing only 9/11, Katrina and the 1980 and 1995 heat waves. It also looks likely to be the deadliest tornado outbreak in the U.S. since April 5-6, 1936.
On another note, probably today’s best front page belongs to the Birmingham News: