Tish Daniels gingerly stepped over boards and nails that used to be homes, businesses and churches as she gave a history of the ruin that is Alberta City. She pointed out obliterated buildings like missing teeth in a broken mouth.
"This used to be a church. That used to be a church," she said Thursday. "They're gone. That was a bookstore. That was a transmission shop. That was a car lot."
That was before a gargantuan tornado ripped a path hundreds of yards wide through the neighborhood a few blocks east of the University of Alabama. Wednesday's twister wiped rows of homes and businesses out of existence. The area resembled the Mississippi coast communities flattened by Hurricane Katrina six years ago.
Piles of rubble lined the sidewalks. A woman, too distraught to talk, staggered down the street.
"I can't find my husband," she cried, cupping her hands to her face.
Alabama student Kristin Wolfe carried an injured dog down the middle of University Boulevard, the neighborhood's main drag, after digging the animal out of some rubble. The dog's head rolled in her arms, and it growled weakly when someone approached to try and give it water.
"I don't think he's going to make it," she said.
Within moments, the animal died. Wolfe and some Air Force ROTC cadets left it by the side of the road, unable to do anything more.
All day Thursday, hundreds of people walked in a long, sad line down the four-lane street, which connects Alberta City to the university.
Some came to take pictures and shoot video of what had been a bustling community of apartments and low-slung shops catering to the college crowd: tanning shops, cheap restaurants. Others came to search the wreckage of their own homes, carrying off a case of soft drinks here, a sack of clothes there.
At least 280 people in six states are dead from the tornadoes that swept across the South; close to 200 of them died in Alabama, including more than 30 in Tuscaloosa, a city of some 80,000. In Alberta City and elsewhere, rescue crews were still searching wrecked buildings for more victims.
Numbers tell only part of the story for places like Alberta City _ places that at the moment exist more in memory than they do in any physical sense.
Lonnie Golightly picked through the crumbled planks that had once been his house, looking to salvage some of his belongings. He held up a striped tie.
"I used to have a lot of nice ties," he said softly.
Scraps of debris blew like tumbleweeds across University Boulevard. The hood of a sports car was peeled back like the lid of a sardine can, resting against its windshield.
A sheet of tin building material was wrapped around a light pole in front of the Alberta Baptist Church, which was missing most of its roof and its brick facade.
On a nearby side street, J.W. and Juanita Brown picked through the remains of their home as neighbors brought photos and other keepsakes they found in the grass.
The Browns survived by climbing down into the red-clay storm cellar of the small house, which Juanita's parents built in the 1950s. "We're just thankful to be alive," she said.
So was Golightly.
"I don't think it's a luck thing. I think it's a blessing from above thing," he said as he sifted through the wreckage of his home. "I can get another house. I can't get another life."
Associated Press writer Tom Breen contributed to this report from Raleigh, N.C.