April 27th, 2011 is a day that will never be forgotten among Alabamians. Violent tornadoes rated EF-4 or higher (including four EF-5s) struck the states of Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and Georgia. Alabama was the hardest hit, with nine violent tornadoes touching down, and eleven total crossing within its boundaries. Over half the state had no electricity for at least five days.
Lawrence County was cut in half by an EF-5 tornado that passed within two miles of my daughter’s house and eight miles of my own. An EF-0 touched down briefly within a mile of our home in the other direction as we sat in our storm room, searching the internet for news of family and loved ones in different cities. Phone service was minimal at best.
Nothing says it quite like a video and the one below shows much of the damage. Some of the early pictures in this video show a cedar house and a gym demolished. My friend’s trailer sat next to them and was totally destroyed, killing her husband and injuring her.
I’ll never forget the moment my daughter pulled up the picture of the gym on her phone. I cringed knowing how close my friend’s trailer was to it. When I’d talked to her only an hour earlier, she was at home with her family. A short while later, I learned her husband hadn’t survived and she was in serious condition in the hospital along with two of her sons.
As we sat there trying to fathom what had happened, the phone rang. Across the county, another friend’s house had been damaged by the tornado, but she sought shelter in her bathtub and was okay. My husband left in his four-wheel-drive truck to pick up her husband and bring them both to our house.
The trees down on our road alone had to be cut and moved twice that day so people could go in and out and check on loved ones. My son-in-law had several family members injured as their trailers were destroyed also. We had a houseful of people that night and the next days were blurred as my family moved to different sites to help clean up and find lost items blown everywhere. Fourteen people in our rural county alone lost their lives, 243 statewide.
Members of my family, along with our Pastor and his wife, received numerous calls as a young lady in a neighboring county with the same name as mine was killed. Several days later, I was in Moulton and approached by a friend I’d not seen in years. She ran to me and hugged me, tears in her eyes. Until that moment, she didn’t know I’d survived.
In Alabama, we learned a lot that day. The extensive warnings ahead of time saved numerous lives I’m sure, but many still didn’t heed the warnings. I’ll never take another outbreak of storms lightly. Everywhere you look, you still see signs of that day: houses never rebuilt, woods shattered, and a new skyline.
As the third anniversary of that day approaches, Alabama will hold services, memorials, and family gatherings to remember lost loved ones. Monuments and parks have been established to honor those who died. People banded together then and still do today when a natural disaster strikes the area. I pray we never go through one again as we did on April 27, 2011.