The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Tornado Outbreak 2011

November 26, 2011

Six months later: 'God Saved 6' dad recounts afternoon of April 27 twister

Editor’s Note: Two days after the April 27 tornado outbreak, News Courier Managing Editor Kelly Kazek and photographer Kim Rynders drove along the path of the storm, recording stories and taking photos. They crossed into Madison County and came across a striking image: Framed by a brilliant blue sky, a demolished home bore a plywood sign: “God Saved 6 Here Behind These Walls.” The photo Rynders snapped with clouds radiating behind the home was published in numerous places, including on The Associated Press wire, and on the cover of a publication by the Alabama Press Association. This is the story behind the photo.

It was an almost evil-sounding hiss that told Brian Reeves his family was in imminent danger.

He had stepped from the relative safety of the bathroom into the hallway of his Harvest home to look for the family dog, Roscoe, when he heard it — the sound of high-pressure winds forcing entry through the home’s otherwise undetectable nooks and crannies.

“I knew exactly what it was,” he said. “I jumped back into the bathroom and shut the door.”

Inside the tiny space, Brian joined his wife Rhonda, his children — Meagan, 23, Halee, 19, and Hunter, 17 — and a neighbor Chaylin Ortiz, 16.    

“I told them to get down and put their heads between their knees,” he said. “I told them, ‘Guys, this is real.’”

When the winds finally stopped that April day almost six months ago, the family faced a new reality — their home on Old Eli Road was destroyed by the EF5 tornado that swept through Limestone and Madison counties. It killed four people in Limestone County and nine in Madison County; 247 died statewide.

The tornado was one of seven that struck in Limestone on April 27. Sixty-two twisters touched down statewide, and 214 around the country.

The home of the Reeves, who now live in Limestone County, was one of as many as 300 destroyed in Madison County. Another 700 homes were damaged or destroyed in Limestone County.

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