Witt: Tornado built sense of community

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 20, 2011

University of Alabama president Dr. Robert Witt said if it is possible, the university was blessed when tornadoes ripped through Tuscaloosa in April.

“There was literally no damage on our campus,” he said.

Six UA students lost their lives that day, and will receive their degrees posthumously at commencement exercises in August. They’ll also be remembered in a candlelight ceremony the night before.

“I could not be more proud of the campus community’s response,” Witt said. “Immediately after the storm, students, faculty and staff were involved in rescueing others, and in working with first responders.”

Given the shape the city was in, he said, administrators quickly made a decision to close school and send students home.

“This freed up our facilities for temporary housing of those who’d lost their homes,” he said. Additionally, he said, Tuscaloosa could not have handled the tens of thousands who would have attended commencement exercises if they had not been cancelled.

In the first four days, he said, UA students prepared and delivered more than 52,0000 hot meals to victims and workers. The football stadium housed 200 Alabama Power workers. The Rec Center was set up as a place of refuge for students who’d lost their homes.

And in those days and weeks since, friends and supporters have contributed more than $2.5 million to the UA Acts of Kindness fund for staff, faculty and students, as well as retired faculty and staff members, who were victims.

Administrators of the fund are taking applications from those victims and working to “make them whole,” he said. Students who had no renters insurance and lost all of their belongings have received help to replace clothing, laptops and books while in other cases, the fund has filled the gap between actual losses and those losses covered by insurance.

“If there is a good side to the tornado, it has strengthened the sense of community on campus,” he said. “The community came together and we are a stronger, better place.”