The News Courier in Athens, Alabama


May 12, 2010

Limestone County stories featured in book on state's deadliest tornadoes

— You can see the faces, hear the accounts and feel the heartache of Alabama tornado victims in a new book out this month about the state’s deadliest tornadoes.

Titled “A History of Alabama’s Deadliest Tornadoes: Disaster in Dixie,” the book was written by Kelly Kazek, columnist and managing editor of The News Courier, and published by The History Press.

The book — which includes more than 40 stunning photos — focuses on the personal accounts and the aftermath of tornadoes that struck the state in 1908, 1924, 1932, 1956, 1974, 1977, 1989, 1994 and 1998.

Included are stories about the1908 Dixie tornado, regarded as one of the most brutal tornadoes in U.S. history; the 1932 Deep South Tornado Outbreak that killed 268 people; the 1977 Smithfield Tornadoes that devastated a Birmingham suburb; the 1989 fall tornado that stunned Huntsville; and the 1998 Birmingham tornado, the most expensive twister in Alabama history to that date.

Included in the book are accounts by Limestone County residents Sandra Birdwell, Faye McElyea, Ananias Green, Marilyn McBay, Sandra Birdwell, Walter McGlocklin, Spencer Black, Tom Griffis, Mike Kelley and more.

Although Alabama is not considered part of the traditional Tornado Alley, it ranks 13th in the number of tornadoes spawned each year, and ranks third in number of tornado deaths. The book explains why.

The 128-page, softcover book will be available for $19.99 at major booksellers June 1, but you can buy a signed copy of it in May by preordering. Bring checks to The News Courier by May 17 or call Kazek at (256) 348-1348.

The author will speak about the book and answer questions as part of the Livingston Concert-Lecture Series in June at Athens State University. The date and time will be announced.

She answered a few questions about the project in an interview with The News Courier.


Q: What inspired you to write about the state’s deadliest tornados?

A: Like most of us in this part of the country, I grew up with a healthy respect for tornadoes and the damage they can do. Thankfully, I have never witnessed a tornado, but I vividly recall being home alone during a storm once and hiding in the pantry, waiting for my mom to come home. I was terrified when the lights went out and I could hear the wind rattling the house. I remember sitting with my head tucked between my knees in school hallways during tornado drills and being awakened to take cover in a hallway or bathroom when a tornado approached. I went to high school in South Huntsville and was devastated when the 1989 tornado struck there. I had since moved to Madison, but I toured the area the following morning, using my brand new press pass to get past the National Guard, and was overwhelmed by the destruction I witnessed. The images remain etched in my mind. Since then, I’ve written about many tragedies for newspapers, including the aftermaths of storms. I like to focus on the human stories, the stories of survival. I see myself as a recorder of history and this book gave me the opportunity to delve into the history of events that changed this state.

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