What began as a typical late night for Yankees reliever David Robertson turned scary around midnight Wednesday when he turned on the television and learned that a massive tornado had hit his hometown.

Robertson immediately thought about his family, which is based in Tuscaloosa, Ala. -- his parents, brother and grandmother still live there, he said -- so he did what anyone would do. He quickly reached for his phone and "I just started dialing numbers."

After getting many busy signals, he reached a close friend who told him the tornado had hit the opposite side of the river from his family. Finally, he spoke to his parents, who assured him they were safe.

"Turns out it missed our side of town," Robertson said yesterday afternoon. "It took out a ton of streets I grew up driving down and hanging out in, things like that. I haven't found out yet if I know anybody that's been injured, but I know people have lost their whole houses. It's pretty severe."

Born in Birmingham and raised in Tuscaloosa, Robertson spent Thursday watching news clips of the tornado's destruction, largely because the phone service back home was so spotty. As he watched, he kept trying to recognize anything from the town he's always called home, and was stunned that it was so hard to do.

"I know pretty much the whole town, so I was looking and looking and looking, trying to find something, and finally I see something I recognize and there was nothing else there," Robertson said. "I could see one thing I recognize, and that's it. That's how bad it was."

Robertson said his father told him the sky was remarkably clear when the mile-and-a-half-wide tornado was headed into town Wednesday, so they were able to see from a distance that they were not in its path. He said they waited out the tornado in their basement, which he said is "pretty much as good a protection as you can get.''

Robertson said there were always a lot of small tornadoes that came through Tuscaloosa when he was growing up, "but never anything this bad. This is the worst I've seen."

He believed that one tornado that hit Tuscaloosa in 1998 killed nine people. At least four times that amount were said to have been killed in that city this time.

"The street it hit, 15th Street, that's basically the center of town and everyone drives through that to get to the university," said Robertson, who attended the University of Alabama. "There's campus housing, frat houses, stuff like that, and my dad said it's gone. I drove down that road every day."

The Yankees held a moment of silence before Thursday night's game. A few hours earlier, it was hard for Robertson not to think about the friends he's lost touch with over the years who still live there. "You just hope for the best," he said.

He acknowledged that it was a bit of a helpless feeling being so far away, merely able to watch the destruction of his hometown airing non-stop on the news channels instead of being able to do something. But having been assured of his family's safety, he said it was important for him to remain with the Yankees.

"I just know my family's OK and I hope everyone else I know is OK," he said. "If they lost their house, let that be the worst thing that happens to them. You can always rebuild."

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