Wedding dress lost in tornado a year ago finds its way home

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CLEMENTS, Ala. (WHNT) - A year ago Tuesday night, a search and rescue effort was still underway in Limestone County after a devastating EF3 tornado had raked across the area just a few hours earlier. More than 700 homes were either damaged or destroyed, and two people lost their lives. Yet in the midst of all that destruction and pain, several remarkable things happened.

In the days that followed the tornado, Pam Clark knew in her heart she had to do something to help the victims of the tornado. "Like I said, I couldn't watch people doing without when I could do something to help 'em," Clark explained.

So she literally borrowed a building on Highway 72 and started giving away things that the victims might need. People brought items in by the car load. She'd sort it out and then give it out. Until one day, when a woman showed up with a garbage bag.

"We had a lady come out to the old Catfish Inn where we were taking donations and she had found it at an open field off Holt Springer Road and instead of giving it away we wanted to find the owner of it," said Lyndsey Grindll.

Inside the bag was an old wedding dress. It was tattered and torn and stained with mud. But Lindsey and Pam knew it was something special and they wanted to get it back to the person who had owned it. We took it to the folks at Classic Cleaners in Athens and asked if they could fix it back.

After examining the dress, owner Janice Jewell said, "I really do think we can do something with it."

As for locating the owner, the only clue was the field on Holt Springer Road, and that's where we found an old friend, Billy Turner. As luck, or fate, would have it he thought he knew who owned the dress.

"Just a hunch because I knew she still had her dress. I had seen the dress before, and her home was completely blown off the lot, it was all gone. So everything was out there somewhere and that's the reason I figured it was hers," Turner said.

Turned out Billy's hunch was right on the money. You see, when Billy's next door neighbor, Tammy Haddock, came home after the storm all she found was an empty lot.  Everything was gone.

"I don't know how much more grateful I could be.  Each year, God has thrown something at me that made me more grateful, just for living, for having life. And for the small things," Tammy said.

So we asked Billy if he would give her the dress. One of the small things that found its way home.

Pam Clark eventually closed the relief center she opened. We wonder if she realizes what a difference she made in the lives of so many.

It took a couple of months for Janice and her crew at Classic Cleaners to restore the dress, and they wouldn't accept a dime for the effort. Tammy and her family have moved to a new home in a neighboring county where they've started life anew. She says one day she'll give the wedding dress, and the story behind it, to her daughter.

And the old restaurant where Pam helped so many tornado victims was purchased by another victim of the tornado, and is once again a popular restaurant.