Photos found after the Alabama tornadoes


More than 100 individual tornadoes struck the Southeastern United States yesterday. More than 200 people were killed in Alabama alone.

I lived in Birmingham for two years, working for mental_floss magazine. I'm happy to report that all of my friends—including the mental_floss staff—are present and accounted for. But even for those who got by relatively unscathed, there's a lot of work to be done. The clean-up from this disaster is turning out to be remarkably disturbing. Many of my friends have reported finding strangers' belongings and pieces of demolished homes in their yards. In several cases, debris found in the Birmingham metro area appeared to have come from Tuscaloosa—some 60 miles away.

In the wake of that, someone's set up a new Facebook group where people are posting scans of photos and documents they've found post-tornado. Partly, it's meant to help reconnect keepsakes and belongings with their owners. And partly, it's a deeply moving memorial. There's little doubt that at least some of the people in these photos won't be able to come collect them.

My thoughts are with everyone down South tonight. I hope you, and the people you love, are safe.

(Thanks to Eileen Kiernan)


  1. Lord, Alabama’s personal generator-industrial complex is going to have a field day. It seemed like even small storms knocked out half of Birmingham’s electricity when I lived there.

    1. Indeed they are. The Home Depot by my house is itself running off of generators in order to sell generators to customers.

      Also, there was a sign stating “One generator per customer” up until they sold out.

      Several gas stations ran out of gas too, but I’m sure all the stores will restock soon. Everybody is working really hard to get things back to normal.

      1. Do you know why the grid is so damn fragile down there? I’ve never been able to get a good answer. I grew up in Kansas, which gets its own share of big summer storms, and we never lost power as easily as Alabama.

        1. If I had to hazard a guess, I’d say the typical AL heat probably fries the transformers more quickly than in other places, especially as people load up the grid with HVAC’s. Doesn’t AL also get a lot of electrical storms, too? That’ll knock dents in the power infrastructure.

          Hmm, I think I’m repeating CaptObvious…

        2. I think the answer is trees. Alabama has a lot of very tall trees. Kansas probably doesn’t have as many. The power companies can keep the transmission lines free of immediate threats, but a 60′ tree 40′ from the line will still take the line out when it falls.

          See Anon’s iPhone comment above for supporting evidence.

          1. Agreed. NW AL in particular is heavily forested. One set of in-laws live just outside Kennedy. The storm split around them. This is the third or fourth time they’ve dodged the weather bullet this year.

  2. If the wind blew hard at my Grandmother’s place, the lights flickered (Jackson County, AL). Home Depot and Lowe’s are about to see record sales.

    1. The lights were flickering today where I am near Buffalo, NY. We had some amazingly intense wind but not any real storm. I don’t think it takes a whole lot (relatively) to get flickering lights.

      I powered down my computer gear that doesn’t have a battery when the lights started flickering. For me that just means external hard drives, but if you have a desktop computer without a UPS you’d want to do something about that too (I’m not running any desktop computers these days). Probably a good idea for those living in storm-prone areas. Although I’m probably more paranoid about hard drive problems than most, and sudden power loss shouldn’t cause catastrophic problems with modern hardware.

  3. Commenting from my iPhone in the dark in bluff park (Hoover, al). The tornadoes didn’t make it here but the straight-line winds knocked out power the morning before the storms. They are saying they hope to get it back by sunday morning. It will be daunting because everyone on my block had at least one tree down ( several into their houses) and powerlines are on the ground at least 3 places on my block (not a big block). My street is pretty typical for what I have seen in the area and several roads are still blocked by trees. I believe no one in the area was hurt, and houses (even those smashed by trees) are all upright but it is still frightening to see just how many (large) trees came down in such a short time. The soundtrack of the daytime is chain saws and now even in the late late hours I hear generators.

  4. Has any religious show biz figure clarified just what exactly the Almighty was mad about this time?

    1. I think God was mad about all those “LOL PEARL HARBOR, LOL TSUNAMI KARMA JAPAN” Twitter/facebook updates.

  5. Posting people’s private photos on facebook a day after they may/may not have died…too soon

  6. I live in the area, and I haven’t had a significant power outage since moving to a subdivision with underground utilities. This could either support the fallen tree theory, or it could have something to do with the fact that the transformers aren’t on top of telephone poles.

  7. I saw a documentary about three years ago about a midwestern photo conservator who took on a similar project. He would travel around after a tornado had hit a town and search for photographs. He would then restore,scan and put them online for purposes of reclaimation. I cannot remember the source of the documentary or the name of the photographer.

  8. The storms came through Memphis, but didn’t hit us near as hard as y’all got it down there. Hope you’re all OK.

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