MUSCATINE, Iowa — The devastating tornado that toppled Tuscaloosa, Ala., didn’t crush the spirit of the Crimson Tide or a former Muscatine resident who coaches there.

Scott Roberts, a 1987 Muscatine High School graduate and assistant track coach at the University of Alabama, said while the April 27 tornado didn’t damage the university, the disaster led officials to shut down classes for the remainder of the semester.

“I have a lot of student athletes who ended up homeless,” said Roberts, 42. “The university encouraged all those who could, to go home.”

That didn’t stop Roberts’ track team from competing in the Drake Relays in Des Moines last weekend.

“We decided we’d be better off in a hotel,” Roberts said. “Des Moines was very welcoming. It really helped buoy the kids’ spirits.”

The University of Alabama women’s track and field team won the 400-meter shuttle hurdle relay for the third straight year and logged the world’s fastest time in the event this season at 54.27 seconds.

Roberts moved to Tuscaloosa four years ago with his wife, 

Dr. Kris Roberts, 41, a pediatrician; their daughter, Courtney, 11; and son, Zachary, 9.

Scott’s parents, Bruce and Shirley Roberts, taught in Muscatine and Wilton, respectively, when he was growing up.

Classes were dismissed early the day of the tornado in Alabama.

“They take the threat of severe weather seriously there,” he said. “The sirens went off, and we were huddled in our closet because almost no Southern homes have basements.”

After the storm, Kris Roberts helped with emergencies at Druid City Hospital, where some of her young patients were among the 236 people pronounced dead so far in Alabama.

According to the National Weather Service, 23 tornadoes hit Alabama last week, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency has approved 36 counties for aid.

The National Guard and Federal Emergency Management Agency are working in the area, where a 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. curfew is in effect, Scott Roberts said.

“The devastation in the downtown is unreal,” he said. “It looks like a nuclear bomb went off. Everything is leveled.”

The Roberts’ children have been out of school since the tornado.

“One of my daughter’s teachers had her house leveled,” Scott Roberts said.

It may take years and billions of dollars for Tuscaloosa and surrounding towns to recover, he said.

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