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Robertson bringing relief to Tuscaloosa

Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox, second from left, talks

Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox, second from left, talks with Yankee's pitcher David Robertson and wife Erin at Alberta Elementary School in Tuscloosa. (May 26, 2011) Credit: Tuscaloosa News/Chase Goodbread

SEATTLE -- David Robertson has absorbed much of the coverage of the killer tornado that laid waste to large portions of his hometown a month ago.

And that did almost nothing to prepare the native of Tuscaloosa, Ala., for what he saw firsthand Thursday.

"It's really bad down there. You don't know until you see it," Robertson said Friday. "I didn't know what to expect. Seeing my hometown destroyed, it's difficult. It's disturbing."

Robertson, 26, spent Thursday, a day off for the Yankees, touring some of the areas in Tuscaloosa that were most devastated. The reliever, who attended the University of Alabama -- and still has family members in Tuscaloosa, none of whom was hurt -- was on a 7 a.m. flight to Seattle on Friday to meet up with the team.

Another Tuscaloosa native was humbled by Robertson's visit and by the website the pitcher and his wife, Erin, set up -- -- to help raise money. "The fact that David came down here during baseball season to see the tragedy that has besieged our city and be inspired to do something about it means a lot," Mayor Walter Maddox said by phone Friday morning.

Maddox, like Robertson, said the images on television, though powerful, "can't give it justice."

"Over 7,000 people lost their jobs in six minutes," he said, a reference to the twister's duration. "The city of Tuscaloosa has 93,000 people; 15,000 were in the direct path of the tornado."

And this: The city is 60 square miles. Maddox said 6.5 miles of it has "catastrophic damage." That element, how widespread the damage was, most stood out to Robertson. "You just see entire neighborhoods wiped out," he said. "There's so much. There's so many people that need help."

Earlier in the week, Robertson started the website where people can donate to the David and Erin Robertson Foundation, with all proceeds going directly to Tuscaloosa County.

"I wish I could go down there and use my hands and help people rebuild, but I'm not able to," he said. "So I'm going to do everything I can on the other end to raise money so that I can get supplies and things to the people down there that can do that."

Workers already have removed enough debris to fill Bryant-Denny Stadium, the 100,000-plus home of the Crimson Tide, Maddox said. And there's still a long way to go.

"I've told people, it took six minutes for the tornado, it'll take six months to clean up and it'll take several years to fully recover," Maddox said.

Robertson found it difficult to leave the area where his parents, brother and grandmother -- who was Maddox's third- grade teacher -- and other relatives and close friends still live.

"I'm going to try and raise as much money as I can. I'm going to donate as much as I can to get it going," said Robertson, who plans to set up some fundraising events in New York. "It's tough to know that I have to leave right now, to just leave it as it is."

The mayor said the city is starting to "turn the page."

"We're beginning to see that recovery can happen," Maddox said. "And will happen."

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