“10 Years After the Storm:” Survivors share stories of faith, hope and love

April 27 Anniversary

Above is an interactive map featuring the stories we brought you during our “10 Years After the Storm” special covering the events of April 27, 2011, and their impact on Tennessee Valley families. Map not displaying well on your mobile browser, view the full version here.

TENNESSEE VALLEY, Ala. – On April 27, 2011, 62 tornadoes formed throughout Alabama over an 18-hour period creating more than 1,200 miles and $4.2 billion worth of damage. This Super Outbreak spanned multiple days and affected 26 states, but Alabama was the hardest hit. Ten years later it remains one of the deadliest and most destructive tornado outbreaks in United States history.

The events of April 27, 2011, resulted in 253 deaths statewide, with more than 100 north Alabamians killed. Thousands of others were left injured, homeless or both. Extensive power outages throughout the following week also added to the challenges of disaster response and recovery.

The storms came in three rounds affecting 35 counties, with tornadoes hitting in 10 of the Tennessee Valley’s 11 counties. The first wave started at 4:00 a.m. with an EF-1 recorded in Waterloo and ended just before 7:30 a.m. It resulted in the death of a Pisgah woman and ruined 15,000 trees at Lake Guntersville State Park. It consisted of more than 30 tornadoes rating from EF-1 to EF-3.

The second line of storms brought seven tornadoes (EF-0 to EF-1) to Morgan, Limestone and Madison counties between 11:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m.

The third wave started just after 2:30 p.m. involving numerous supercell thunderstorms that produced more than 25 violent tornadoes, 11 rated EF-4 or EF-5.

Marshall & Franklin Counties

The first tornado of the third wave formed at 2:40 p.m. in Cullman County. The EF-4 then moved through Hulaco into Marshall County and the community of Ruth, northwest of Arab, where it killed five people, all members of the Hallmark family.

Less than 30 minutes later, an EF-5 tornado formed in southwest Marion County and moved northeast. There, it killed 18 people and destroyed 75 percent of the town of Hackleburg. Then it made its way through Phil Campbell, Oak Grove and eastern portions of Franklin County, where it ultimately killed 26 people, including the parents of Garrett LeClere.

Lawrence County

The EF-5 continued to track northeast into Lawrence County maintaining wind speeds of more than 200 miles per hour. It destroyed parts of Mount Hope before moving toward Langtown, north of Moulton and on into Hillsboro.

Fourteen people died in Lawrence County, including 12-year-old Aurelia Guzman.

Limestone County

The same tornado crossed county lines again through the northwest corner of Morgan County and then into Limestone County. It weakened to an EF-4 at this point, but still created wide swaths of destruction, including in Tanner, where it killed three people.

The tornado moved through East Limestone, where it killed another woman and narrowly missed the high school and the prison. Research meteorologists regularly study areas like these to understand why they appear to be hot spots.

Madison & Jackson Counties

The tornado kept moving, reaching Madison County, but weakening to an EF-3. When all was said and done, that one tornado lived for 132 miles and almost 2 1/2 hours. It was responsible for 72 deaths statewide, nine in Madison County, including a Navy veteran who died while saving his daughter.

While the “Hackleburg-Phil Campbell” tornado was still on the ground, another tornado formed just northeast of Section in Jackson County at 4:00 p.m. As it climbed toward Pisagh and Rosalie, it intensified to an EF-4. It then crossed through Flat Rock, Higdon and into DeKalb County, ultimately killing 12 people, including a couple who had been married for nearly 50 years.

An hour later, a second EF-4 developed in Jackson County near Fackler traveling toward Stevenson and Bridgeport, where it killed one 13-year-old boy.

Tuscaloosa County

The same time multiple violent tornadoes moved through north Alabama, an EF-4 originated outside of Tuscaloosa around 4:45 p.m. It is responsible for 1,500 injuries and 65 deaths, including six young adults with ties to the Tennessee Valley. Two of those students were from Priceville, while three others were originally from Jackson County.

DeKalb County

North Alabama’s final monster tornado of the day appeared around 6:20 p.m. near Geraldine in DeKalb County and worked its way through Fyffe, Rainsville, Sylvania and Cartersville growing to an EF-5 and traveling more than 30 miles. It ultimately killed 25 people, including three members of the Ferguson family.

Remembering the Victims

As we pause to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of one of the deadliest tornado outbreaks in U.S. history, please take a moment to read through the names of north Alabama’s more than 100 victims.

On April 27, 2011, storms stole lives and livelihoods, but it also left us with stories of sacrifice, service, family, faith and love. It remains the third deadliest outbreak in recent United States history and validates the need for local community shelters, enhanced messaging and word-of-mouth warnings. Please, let it also serve as a gentle reminder to take severe weather seriously and to make sure those closest to you know how much you love them.

News 19’s coverage is dedicated to the victims, survivors, first responders, health care workers and volunteers.

“Reflections: After the Storm” is a compilation of WHNT News 19’s coverage before, during and after the April 27, 2011, tornado outbreak. This 30-minute special broadcast produced for WHNT News 19 in Huntsville, AL, originally aired in October of 2011. It reflects on the six-month anniversary of those tornadoes that ripped through Alabama killing more than 250 people. This is the story of what it took to tell viewers’ stories in the challenging days and weeks after the storm.

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