ARAB, Ala. (WHNT) — On April 27, 2011, 62 tornadoes ripped across Alabama over an 18-hour period killing 253 people and causing $4.2 billion worth of damage.
For Alabamians, the 18-hour period when the storms were striking seemed never-ending. Twelve years after the April 27th storms, it remains one of the deadliest and most destructive tornado outbreaks in United States history.
More than 100 North Alabamians were killed. One of the communities where people died from the storms was in Marshall County.
William Johnson lives in Arab. He says in the days after the tornadoes, power outages and desperate times led to his home and several of his relative’s homes being robbed. Johnson admits to getting a bit overwhelmed thinking about the time even today.
“I couldn’t just imagine it all being gone like it did, but my son was in the Huntsville Hospital and I guess my thoughts were about him,” he said. “It was a bad time. I get choked up about it.”
Johnson recalled what happened that day.
“I said ‘Where is Shannon? and the boys?’ he said. “They said the boys are alright they’re at their grandmother’s house and Shannon’s in the Huntsville Hospital so I didn’t even come from the highway over here. I just tore out to Huntsville and when I got over there it was just a mad house it was so much people it was pitiful.”
Johnson said he waited all night in the crowded hospital but they were also working with limited resources.
“It was about 12 o’clock when they finally came out into the emergency room and said that my son had some neck injuries,” he said “They didn’t know how bad because they didn’t have no power, they were operating on emergency power, and said that we don’t know how bad the crack is but maybe tomorrow well have some electricity to find out just how bad he is.”
For emergency services, a lot of the hours were spent at work on April 27th, leaving their families who were equally affected at home alone without them. Madison County EMA Director Jeff Birdwell, thanks his wife for being able to go out and help save others on that day and the weeks following.
“I can’t do it without my family at home and that is probably as true a statement as you can get,” he said. “Again I mention my family and my wife. I would not have been able to go to work had she not been able to get things taken care of at home and I just think that credit goes out to them as much as the first responders.”
On April 27th, 2022 Governor Kay Ivey proclaimed this day a day of remembrance. The people spoken to on this anniversary say they remember it as if it was yesterday and the lessons learned and the lives lost will never be forgotten.