The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

May 2, 2012

One year later, it’s time to move forward (4-24-12)

By Adam Smith


It’s hard to believe it’s been one year since the April 27 tornado outbreak, as it remains as fresh in my mind as the day it happened.

Like many other residents in North Alabama, I’ll never forget the date. While 9/11 will always have a national significance, April 27 will always be of regional significance.

The reminders of that day are still with us — a few blue tarps, abandoned homes and a broken, jagged tree line that allows the naked eye to see farther than ever before in certain spots.

But gone are the national media outlets, the seemingly endless supply of food and clothing aid and — for the most part — the steady stream of volunteers carrying chain saws and a can-do attitude. A year later, it’s now left to us to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, pick up the pieces and rebuild our communities.

Luckily, Alabama has always been a proud state of proud people who don’t care much for outside interference. The healing began within hours of the twisters cutting miles-wide swaths into our homes, businesses, schools, churches, roads and fields.

We’ve always taken care of our own, and that became evident just minutes after it was safe to venture outside to help our neighbors.

Limestone County was unfortunate enough to be hit by an EF5, and we lost four lives that day. We were fortunate in the respect the death toll was not higher, but even one lost life would have been a tragedy.

For all the tragic stories that emanated from that day, we learned something about ourselves and our neighbors. We learned that no matter how prepared we are for a natural disaster, we’re never prepared enough.

We learned that warning sirens are no substitute for a battery-powered weather radio. We learned how to hope for the best, but plan for the worst. We learned that good people do exist, and despite all the world’s negativity, neighbors can still be neighborly and offer a helping hand.

In my own neighborhood, my next-door neighbor gassed up his generator and allowed anyone with an extension cord to plug in. A few days later, he helped me nail back a piece of siding that was ripped from the side of the house.

Such trying times, however, can also bring out the worst in people. In the immediate aftermath of the storms, we heard the price gouging stories related to water, ice, gasoline and hotel rooms.

At gas stations in Athens, we witnessed the long lines of out-of-towners desperate to fill up their vehicles, some of whom did not display the best manners. In the weeks and months that followed, there were the fly-by-night contractors and storm shelter salesmen who descended on North Alabama like a plague of greedy locusts, hoping to cash in on our fear and misery.

We also heard the stories of the looters and pillagers who rode damaged neighborhoods under the guise of “offering help.” We’re fortunate enough to have law enforcement officers who can separate the wheat from the chaff in that respect.

One year after we waited, worried, prayed, looked warily to the sky for “the next one” and stayed close to our places of safety, the healing continues. However, we are close in our recovery. The long, jagged cut is now a Band-Aid-covered laceration that will heal further as the days, weeks and months go by.

With that being said, we still have a short row to hoe. There are those in our community still hurting, some of whom lost everything. We need to do what we can to get the less fortunate back on their feet.

The storms not only wrecked homes and businesses, but made our landscape ugly. Each hanging limb and broken tree will continue to remind us of that horrible day. I hope private property owners will eventually find the resources to clear those reminders, perhaps with some help from their neighbors.

It is my hope that we can eventually be free of nearly all the reminders of April 27, 2011, as it is not a memory we should hold near and dear. This year, we will look back and share the stories of our fear, our recovery and what we lost.

In subsequent years, maybe we can focus on what we gained — a new respect for our neighbors and the forces of nature we cannot control.