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Not knowing where to go, Arenas then walked to a mall, which seemed to be untouched. He sat on a curb for nearly an hour, trying to process what he had just seen. He would learn later that three bodies lay on the mall's roof, thrown there by the storm.
"You couldn't have made a tornado that big even in the movies," says Arenas, standing in front of what remains of his house 10 days after the tornado, the putrid smell of dead animal and rotten food heavy in the air. "Afterward everyone was walking around like zombies. I'm trying to get my head together. It's going to take time."
A day after the tornado struck, Arenas drove 11 hours to his home in Kansas City, wanting to leave the destruction and heartache behind. But he couldn't. So he steered his 2008 black Denali to a Sam's Club, purchased $1,600 worth of necessities—bottled water, baby food, toothpaste—and returned to Tuscaloosa. He tweeted that he would be giving away his supplies outside of a mall on McFarland Boulevard, and within minutes, hundreds of homeless tornado victims had surrounded his SUV.
"I never realized that as a former Alabama football player, I can bring a smile to someone's face just by hugging them," says Arenas. "That's why I've been going to see the National Guard guys. I'm just trying to brighten their days."
"I can't emphasize enough how much seeing Javier boosts the morale of everyone here," says Sergeant Stocks, watching Arenas sign more autographs. "I guess you could say that's the power of Alabama football during this unprecedented event in this state."
KAYLA HOFFMAN MAY HAVE BEEN THE HAPPIEST STUDENT at Alabama on April 27. Eleven days earlier in Cleveland, Hoffman, a 5' 1", 120-pound senior on the Tide gymnastics team, had earned a 9.95 on the floor exercises at the NCAA women's championship en route to leading 'Bama to the title. Then, on the morning everything changed in T-town, Hoffman was named winner of the Honda Award, given to the top female gymnast in Division I.
That afternoon around 4 p.m. she jogged around campus with her boyfriend of three years, Michael Hughes, a decathlete on the Alabama track team. Then Hughes drove to his apartment in Northport, a mile north of Tuscaloosa, and Hoffman went to her second-floor off-campus apartment at 1509 Sixth Avenue, which sits a football field away from 15th and McFarland.
She showered. Moments after finishing, she lost power in her apartment. Hoffman heard warning sirens but thought little of them; they had gone off dozens of times in recent weeks, and every one proved to be a false alarm. But as she dressed she received a text from a teammate who lived in a ground-floor apartment 200 yards away: Hurry, come here. It's coming. It's huge.
Hoffman rushed down her stairs. She walked into the suddenly cool late afternoon and started to run to her teammate's apartment. After taking three or four steps Hoffman looked up: The nearly mile-wide tornado was right in front of her. Several cars were flying through the air not more than 30 feet away.