By Jean Cole
Before dawn broke a year ago on April 27, Alabama residents awoke to sirens and weather forecasters warning of an extreme tornado outbreak that day.
By nightfall, 62 tornadoes had ripped through the state, killing 248 people and demolishing thousands of homes and businesses.
Seven of the 62 storms struck Limestone County, killing four residents and destroying or damaging 700 homes and 90 businesses.
As overwhelming as the day was, the response to the disaster was more compelling.
It is for those who died, who survived, who lost homes, who lost livelihoods, who gave rescue or who helped neighbors — on April 27 and in past years — that a group is planning a memorial.
The Tornado Remembrance and Awareness Committee, or TRAC, is planning to build the monument in front of the cemetery at Bethel Church of Christ off U.S. 72 East, which was leveled in the April 27 storm, said committee founder Kelly Kazek, one of about 15 committee members.
The first phase of the memorial — which will include a horseshoe-shaped wall and base built of storm victims’ bricks — will be dedicated this April 27 on the anniversary of the storm. The second-phase statuary will follow as soon as possible.
“We want to use brick from peoples’ homes,” Kazek said. “Anyone who still has bricks should call us so we can collect them.”
Donors can reach her at 256-232-2720 or 256-348-1348.
“We have already secured the help of some talented masons — Al and Matt Burns of Precision Masonry of Athens,” she said. “They have agreed to donate their labor for the first phase. We are still deciding on a design and materials for the statuary for the second phase.”
The second phase needs both ideas and donations, she noted.
Even before the outbreak of April 27, Kazek thought the county needed a monument to its tornado victims.
“For the past six or seven years, I’ve been talking with local officials
about the need for a memorial to the victims of the April 3, 1974, tornadoes
— the deadliest to strike Limestone County,” she said. “Huntsville has a
memorial for the 1989 tornado victims, the town of Guin has one for 1974 and
Joplin, Mo., already has one for the tornado that struck there in May. I
just felt it was an event in our history that should not be overlooked. So
when the 2011 outbreak occurred, I decided I would try to get something
built. I think it is really important to honor those who came to our aid and
those who survived, as well as remembering those who died. It says something
about our spirit and our resilience.”
The memorial will include two bronze plaques — one bearing the names of those who died in the tornadoes of 2011, 1974 and prior years. Kazek had already researched the deaths for a book and had determined how many had died after 1914. However, a newspaper story about a 1913 tornado said only that three were “rumored” dead at Tanner.
She and Limestone County Archivist Rebekah Davis are researching the matter to try to confirm all of the dead.
“If you know of anyone killed in the early 1900s, we would like to confirm it,” Kazek said.