Picking up the pieces

Delmar native lives through southeast's tornado onslaught

Christine Hackman figured the evening of April 27 would be like any other. The University of Alabama student had plans with friends to go out to dinner despite menacing weather and a tornado warning after all, there had been several in the preceding days that were followed by nothing more dramatic than high winds.

But then, as the group of students was about to head out, the sirens started whining. Hackman looked out the window of her Tuscaloosa apartment and saw a massive F4 tornado filling the skyline.

It looked like it was across the street and behind the high school," she said. "We started hearing people screaming from their balconies."

The group headed to the first floor for better protection. The power cut out. Debris started smacking against the building.

"It was probably the scariest sound I heard in my entire life," Hackman said. "I thought I might die. The last text I got out to my parents was 'I love you.'"

Back in Delmar, N.Y., Hackman's parents were leaving a Bethlehem Town Board meeting that had gone particularly late. Ann Abaray, Christine's mother, switched on her cell phone and received a string of messages from her daughter. Luckily, cell reception had returned and Christine was safe.

But for the rest of the night, she and her husband, Peter Hackman, were glued to the television and the cell phone.

"We were just relieved. We were watching the Weather Channel and the weather people there were nearly hysterical," she said.

And with good reason. Hackman had lived through one of the worst storm systems to ever sweep the southeast. The death toll has since climbed into the hundreds. In Tuscaloosa alone, more than 40 were dead at last count, five of them University of Alabama students. Power was out for over a week in many areas.

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