Remembering the November 1989 tornado, 25 years later

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – Saturday marks 25 years since an EF-4 tornado struck Airport Road and left massive destruction in its wake.  Huntsvillians who were here will never forget the dark memories of that day and those that followed.

The storm killed 21 people and injured more than 450.  The tornado’s path stretched more than 18 miles. It struck during the start of rush hour traffic in Huntsville that day and crossed two major highways.  It hit schools and churches.

Of the 21 people killed in the tornado, 12 were in automobiles. Many people remember being stuck in traffic looking at devastation all around them, not being able to get home.

Damage from the tornado was estimated to be around $100 million.  The tornado destroyed more than 250 homes, 80 businesses and 10 public buildings.

Were you in Huntsville then? What do you remember most about that day? Post your comments below.

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  • Jon

    I was 10. Back then you just didn’t know where the tornado was or where your loved ones were. All you knew to do was get in the bathtub and pray! My father was stuck on the parkway in 5:00 traffic, but we didn’t know it because no one had cell phones. He got home an hour or so late and I remember crying when I saw him walk in.

  • Sherry

    I was 18 when this one went through. I lived on patton road and we stood in the hallway of the apts. and watched it go over head off the arsenal. My brother was working on that end of town that day and had just left a job he was doing and missed it by 3 minutes. I had friends who were injured in this tornado. One of which lost a leg to save some of the children at jones valley elem. school. I still can see it in my mind. Horrible day and night. I remember going down airport road after reopening it and what a difference it was.

  • Rachel Foster

    I was at whitesburg elementary school. I was only five years old when this came through. All I remember is being in after school care when we were told to go to the hallway and with our head down and covered. It was very scare then. My dad had to walk home from whitesburg drive.

  • stan/ truck driver

    I was on my way home from lacey springs after a roofing job on a garage , the guy that help me is from texas and all I heard is it’s coming all day, guess he was right, we just past golf rd. then my car rocked for about 10 seconds bad from wind, then radio said tornado just cross parkway on airport rd , so I did stop to help at any thing I could be helpful at and was told to get the blank out of here so hpd could rob golbo I could have being a big help but robbing golbo was the first on list , thank god that cop was fired do not know the rest of it

  • Deann Graveman

    We lived on Redstone Arsenal and the military police were driving through the neighborhood telling people to take cover. Very scary day as I was home alone with my 2 wk old and 7 yr old daughters.

  • Tim Newman

    I was 20 years old working for Suburban Ambulance in Decatur. My partner that day was my future wife. I had an eerie feeling all day that something bad was going to happen. We took a patient home from dialysis treatment who lived in the Bankhead Forest. Just after dropping the patient off (and being told to be careful by her) we headed back to Decatur, while following the funnel cloud. We kept it in sight and drove no faster than it was going. when we reached Decatur, there had just been a severe storm with baseball sized hail. We arrived at our office and were preparing to go home when we heard a call from HEMSI over the hospital radio network that Huntsville had been hit by a tornado and they were requesting all possible medical assistance from the surrounding ambulance services. We were the first ambulance from Decatur to reach Huntsville. The sight that greeted me when we topped the hill over the old airport was one I’ll never forget. I could see hundreds of flashing lights from the base of the hill on Memorial Parkway all the way up Airport Road past Whitesburg and up the hill on the other side. Water geysers were shooting up where Waterford Square Apartments used to be. We spent several hours helping out. Suburban Ambulance sent eight ambulances that night. Many of us worked in short sleeves in the snow because earlier that day, the temperature was in the mid 70s. Because of this, many of us did not bring jackets. The events, sights, sounds and smells of that night are with me until I die.

  • KB

    I was 22. I remember how weird the sky looked that day. Almost like a bruise. Dark greenish hue. I was at my cousin’s house in North Huntsville earlier that day due to watching the weather. I lived out in New Market in a trailer with my 3 young children and had never experienced anything like it. Even though I was North of the storm I remember how bad the lightning was and being terrified not really knowing at the time WHERE the tornado was. We lost power before the location of it was announced and I just prayed and was in the bathtub with my kids taking cover. I still have the book that was published afterwards. I look at it from time to time and am thankful. I still feel bad for those who didn’t make it and / or lost everything. My brother and sister in-law moved from Waterford Square apts. to Madison about a week prior. Can’t believe its been 25 years!

  • Cristal

    I was about 6 years old that time, I didn’t know much about tornadoes, then my mom said to get in the bathroom and seconds later the tornado hits my house, I lived in the Jones Valley area and after it hit all I could remember is people screaming and ambulances

  • Janice

    Earlier in the day I had gone to pick up my daughter from Blossomwood where we had to respond to a tornado warning by crouching in the hallways. Got home after that and started trying to locate my middle schooler and high schooler. No cell phones back then. I remember it taking my mom over four hours to get home in Jones Valley from Decatur. She was on Whitesburg approaching Airport Road, and she said her car started bouncing up and down as though someone were pouncing on the trunk. She wondered who would be doing this in this terrible storm. Of course, it was the storm wind itself lifting and dropping the back end of her car. Meanwhile, I was on the phone with my Dad who was telling me she still wasn’t home. . Remember, too, the next morning how cold it was and how there were snow flurries.

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