LIMESTONE COUNTY, Ala. (WHNT) - This evening one year ago, April 28, 2014, we were in storm mode. A deadly twister had raked across Limestone County destroying hundreds of homes and claiming two lives. WHNT News 19's crews were right in the middle of the storm as it struck, so tonight, we take a look back.
After a storm like that, they can tell you how many houses were damaged or destroyed, how many people were injured or killed. But it's impossible to track the human toll of these disasters, the mental and emotional drain on the victims. We went back and found some of the first storm victims we saw a year ago, to learn about life in the shadow of the storm.
We first met Sharon Kellum about an hour before the storm hit, at the small store on Highway 72 where she works. About an hour later, we saw her again as she pulled up to the trailer park where she, her husband and children lived.
"As soon as I pulled up, my main concern was finding my kids," Sharon told us. She went on, "I just wanted to find 'em and put my arms around 'em so I could see for myself that they was okay. Everything else could be replaced, but they couldn't." Her family had been in the storm shelter, and they were fine. But the trailer they rented was destroyed, along with most of what they owned.
Today, Sharon and her family are buying a house, and she says it feels more like a home. "We're just now getting back on our feet. I'm not gonna say we're completely back, it's been a long road," she explained.
"I'm not sure what this was," Amber Buttleman said as she was digging through the remains of her home when we first saw her. She came home hours after the storm to find her duplex apartment had literally been blown away, along with most of her belongings. In fact, every building in that community was destroyed. "I didn't know what to think to be honest, just to see your entire lives ripped away from you," she said in an interview one year ago.
The one thing Amber hoped most to find was her dog, Romeo. He had been left behind, and while he survived the tornado, days later he was struck and killed by a car.
Today Amber works in a no-kill animal shelter in Limestone County, and the dog she rescued after Romeo's death is there with her. His name is Mercury. Amber is still living with her parents and struggling to get back on her feet and put the past behind her.
"I just wanted to move on from it and now that it's getting close to a year it's starting to hit me, even worse, you know. I sit up and cry all the time and I don't like it, I really don't."
You may remember Teresa Ingram from the video taken just moments after the tornado decimated one of the trailer parks on Highway 72. She helped move the deceased and then huddled over one of the injured until paramedics took over. When we met her days later, she was still trying to come to grips with what had happened. "I still see their faces, still see their faces," Teresa told us in a haunting interview.
Today, Teresa has been promoted to one of the lead cooks at Shoney's in Athens. She says they and so many others stood behind her and helped her get back on her feet. She has a new home on a private lot and is happy with the many improvements in her life. But the memories of that dreadful day are never far below the surface.
"I was there because I was supposed to be there," Teresa said, wiping away a tear. "This was my life because maybe I was the one who could handle it, you know, if that makes any sense, Al. But yeah, I still see their faces."
On the Sunday after the tornado, the good people at Clements Baptist Church moved their worship services outdoors. There was no electricity in the building, but they would not be deterred. Within hours of the storm, they mobilized a small army of volunteers who turned the church into the hub of relief efforts throughout that community. Within weeks, they had fed, clothed and shared the love with thousands of people who all needed a little hope.
"Because there was no hope in the lives of a lot of people that day and the days after," according to Pastor Tim Anderson of Clements Baptist Church. He added, "And slowly but surely the Lord put the pieces back together and here we are, a year later, and yes there's still pieces that are broken, without a doubt, this community, this area, many lives will never be the same,"
Pastor Tim went on to say there was a lot of good that came from the storm. It brought out the good in a lot of people who stepped up to help in a variety of ways. And that, he says, is what makes that community what it is -- the people.