Rosalie Recovery: Community still cleaning up three months after deadly tornado

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ROSALIE, ALA. – It’s been just over three months since a tornado shattered sleep in Rosalie.  A tornado roared through the Jackson County town in the darkness just after midnight on November 30, 2016.

“I was in bed. I knew I was in trouble,” said resident, Joy Thornhill.

A tornado bore down on her home and others along Highway 71

“I was probably in the middle, because it took off five rooms,” Thornhill stated describing the damage to her home.

Tornados are a familiar but unwelcome visitor in these parts. “The house has been hit 4 times. This was the worst,” proclaimed Thornhill.

Joy isn’t a delicate flower.  “My daughter called me. They’ve got a safe room. She said, ‘You want to come out here?’ I said, ‘No. I’m going back to bed.  She said, ‘Back to bed?’ I said, ‘Tornado’s already come through,” somehow she managed to laugh.

Three months after the tornado, Thornhill and her neighbors are still cleaning up.  On this day, there were about a half a dozen people on Thornhill’s property performing a variety of tasks.  She admits that as she approaches her 79th birthday on May 9th, she can’t do it on her own.  “I can’t rake anymore. Age is catching up with me.”

That said, she’s thankful.  “It’s [clean-up] much easier to deal with than a hospital trip or a funeral.”

Not even a mile down the road, makeshift markers remind us that three people lost their lives that night.

  • 21-year-old Jessica Fleming
  • 26-year-old Justin Wright
  • 22-year-old April Wright

Justin Wright (left), April Wright (center) and Jessica Fleming (right) died in the tornado that hit Rosalie, Alabama, on November 30.

They all died when the storm lifted their mobile home and deposited it on the other side of Highway 71.

All along this stretch of rural road, the signs of destruction remain.

That same storm leveled the Rosalie Plaza Grocery Store.  The site is now cleared.

The tornado heavy damaged the Rosalie Baptist Church too and it remains unusable for worship.  “After they had everybody check it out, they said it was going to cost so much more to stabilize it and save it than it would to start from scratch.”

Despite being tested, Thornhill keeps the faith. “I grew up in that house all but 6 years, raised my children there, it’s just – I just couldn’t leave.”

Thornhill tells us that Constructors for Christ has committed to rebuilding the Rosalie Baptist Church.  She says the congregation just has to pay for a new slab and the volunteer group will pretty much take care of the rest.  That work is set to begin in June.