On the morning of April 28, 2011, I was glad firstly that My Baby Girl, who was 17, had made it safely to our house the night before with her boyfriend and, although we didn’t have power, we built a fire and ate breakfast bars for dinner. I was also happy our home was undamaged, with the exception of a downed tree out back. I heard debris dropping as a tornado passed before Baby Girl arrived home (she and her boyfriend were frantically trying to drive along flooded roads to our house). We’d later learn, with a photo as evidence, that the largest, deadliest tornado that struck in the April 27 outbreak, passed within a half mile of our home.
I was on staycation that week from my job as editor of The News Courier, the community paper in Athens, Ala. My dedicated staff managed to get a very small edition printed on April 28, despite the fact that our printing location in Cullman was hit by a tornado. We had spotty phone coverage, no landlines, but I’d learned the night before that several people had been killed nearby. As soon as it was daylight on April 28, at about 5:30, I loaded Baby Girl into the car and we went to begin coverage of the devastation that would last every day for five weeks.
The first signs of death were the carcasses of three cows we saw on a farm across from Limestone Correctional Facility, a federal prison that was heavily damaged. The remainder of that day and what followed was heart-wrenching. Many days, Baby Girl and her friends made sandwiches and we took food and water to families and workers sifting through the remnants of their homes. Later, employees at the News Courier purchased roses to take to the moms who were still sifting through rubble on Mother’s Day.
This was not the only disaster Baby Girl helped me cover; we also went to the aftermath of Katrina in Mississippi and Alabama, and Ivan in Gulf Shores. I think the experience taught us both so much about resilience and human nature.
In the aftermath, the staff of The News Courier put together a book about the outbreak and the seven tornadoes that struck in Limestone County that day. Statewide, the stats were:
April 27, 2011 stats
- Tornadoes in Alabama: 62
- Fatalities in Alabama: 247
- Fatalities in Limestone County: 4
- Fatalities in Madison County: 9
- Tornadoes nationwide: 202 in 14 states
- Fatalities nationwide: 316
- Tornadoes ranked EF5 (highest): 2 (Limestone and DeKalb)
I doubt there are any copies left of this special edition, although feel free to call The News Courier and check. I’m sharing aa few photos below to commemorate that horrific day and remember those who lost their lives. (btw, the community also built a memorial to all of Limestone County’s tornado victims at Bethel Cemetery on Highway 72 in Athens)
Sorry for the photo quality. Not sure where the originals are currently but the book itself has high-quality photos.