'Tuscaloosa Twister' impacts 908th, ASTS provider

  • Published
  • By Gene H. Hughes
  • 908th Airlift Wing
As a provider for the 908th ASTS and as a nurse practitioner in her civilian life, Major Cynthia Lewis has seen a lot. That didn't prepare her for what she saw in the aftermath of the deadliest natural disaster to hit the state in more than a half century.

Between the hours of 5 and 6 p.m. on April 27, a wedge tornado measuring about a mile wide struck northern Alabama, wreaking destruction all the way from Tuscaloosa to Birmingham. Although no member of the 908th was seriously injured, one lost family members and several sustained either minor loss or significant property damage.
In all, almost 250 Alabamians lost their lives, with more than 330,000 residents experiencing power loss.

For Maj. Lewis, it began when her sister woke her up as the sirens began to go off, telling her to take cover because the massive funnel was just two streets from her house.

"We started hearing this loud roaring, so we put the kids in the bathtub," she said. "I peeked outside, and it was jet black like midnight, and the windowpanes were shaking. After a few minutes, it became bright, clear and sunny, but you could hear the roaring for a long time."

Upon venturing out into her neighborhood, Maj. Lewis was overwhelmed with the destruction the vortex had wrought.

"Everything was reduced to rubble," Maj. Lewis said. "You couldn't tell what it was anymore."

She said she felt bad because movement was restricted and she wasn't able to use her skills to help ... until the next day, when she and three other nurses helped a group of residents looking for a 5-year-old girl.

"They had heard cries that morning, but hadn't found her," she said. "She was found under a couch, and you normally feel for a pulse, but I had touched her, and she was cold as ice."

Driving soon after, Maj. Lewis started to cry and had to pull over. She and her children came down to Montgomery because, she said, she just had to get away. At the unit, they spoke with pyschiatric technicians about their experience.

"I think it's very important to talk about it," Maj. Lewis said. "It hurts my heart that people didn't take warning. I think I'll be sensitive about it for a while. There's so much devastation. Tuscaloosa will never be the same."