Digital Story Critique: After the Storm
After the Storm is one man’s harrowing account of a 1.5 mi (2.4 km) wide EF4 tornado that leveled his home town of Tuscaloosa, Alabama on April 27, 2011. The storm resulted in 64 deaths, over 1500 injuries, and massive devastation which permanently altered the geography of the town. Told in twelve minutes and fifteen chapters from the perspective of filmmaker Andrew Beck Grace, the story takes us on an a very personal and immersive journey of the hours leading up to the disaster and the aftermath of one of the most destructive storms in our nation’s history.
The narrative opens with swirling clouds, the sounds of blowing winds, and a stark and splintered landscape. The voice of Grace enters with foreboding words of, “Dear future disaster survivor . . .” Already I am anxious. You get the feeling he’s trying to make you understand something important. And as the story continues, you realize what that important thing is.
Up to the third chapter all seems fine. The scene in the background looks calm and sunny while relaxed music plays softly in the background. Then a video of the weatherman pops up and reports that 62 tornadoes have been spotted. The perfect storm was coming.
“Tornadoes always hit other people in other places – the trailer park on the outskirts of town, the mangled home of blown insulation littering the trees – but this, future disaster survivor, is important to remember. This can happen to you.”
Grace and his wife pick up their two cats and you vicariously crawl into the closet with them to wait out the storm. While sitting in the dark, he begins to reminisce of a tornado he had experienced as a child using a visual scrapbook embedded with videos from that time. He goes on to describe the sounds of all the debris hitting the roof and the smell of pine as the branches of his neighbor’s trees swirled above him.
The tornado ends and the worst part begins.
The rest of the story captures the aftermath and the complete overhaul of the landscape of his town from picturesque to mangled masses of bricks, boards, and steel. In one scene Grace describes how they were now able to see the mall 1.5 miles away when it had formerly been blocked by houses and trees – five blocks between had been completely flattened.
The narrator addresses the changes and memories that surround such a significant event in a person’s life and the grieving that takes place afterwards. He ends with the haunting words that by now you are taking heed to:
“And so, future disaster survivor, when you emerge from your hallway closest to everything rearranged, try and pay attention because you are moving from one life into the next.”
Using Jason Ohler’s digital storytelling rubric, I chose the following traits for my critique based on effective first-person narrative techniques used by the author. In writing, first -person perspective is often used to convey powerful emotions, a compelling account, as well as the ability to “get inside” the character’s head. I want to determine if this mode of storytelling helped or hindered this goal.
This was an interesting story for me because it hits home. I’ve been through the Northridge Earthquake of ’94 that toppled many buildings around me, and also the Black Forest Fires of 2013 that destroyed 509 homes (I had to evacuate for that one as we were in the fire’s path). I still go out of my way to drive down Black Forest road and see the charred trees, the new homes, the renewed meadow grasses growing along the once lush forest floor. I also remember the only time I ever saw my mom scared – it was while we were huddling in the basement through tornadoes that ripped through Missouri when I was 4-yrs-old. It’s a familiar tale for many.
We are all disaster survivors to some extent and that’s why this story is so relatable.