High winds and tornadoes not only destroyed the homes and lives of countless Alabamians April 27, 2011, the fury also picked up belongings and memories of those in its path, tossing them in fields and yards throughout neighboring counties and communities.
After the winds died down and recovery was well underway, residents of Limestone County began picking up the pieces and discovered items belonging to others — sometimes 100 miles away — were left mangled in the aftermath.
Travel of debris in tornadoes is common, but it is more unusual for items to be found long distances from the storm, according to John Snow, Regents’ professor at the University of Oklahoma. Snow studied the phenomenon of debris transport for three years.
He told The News Courier the majority of debris falls within a mile or two of the storm, but found in a study that a small fraction of debris can travel 100-150 miles. The items that travel long distances are sucked up into the funnel, traveling tens of thousands of feet into the air, before dropping back down to earth.
After the storms residents found pictures and yearbook pages from Phil Campbell — a community 80 miles away.
Utility bills and other items from Smithville, Miss., a town also struck by an EF5 tornado on April 27, were found after traveling more than 128 miles.
Other finds include Wrangler jeans of all sizes with tags still on them that were dropped all areas of the county from the distribution plant in Hackleburg.
A hymnal page for the song “I Fear No Wind” was found with the words “… storms I’ve braved, I’ve anchored in Jesus, I fear no wind or wave…”
Pictures, quilts, Bibles, birth certificates and more were uncovered.
Facebook reunites victims with belongings
For almost a year, Patty Bullion of Lester has made it her mission to reunite victims with their memories. She created the Facebook page “Pictures and Documents found after the April 27, 2011 Tornadoes.”
The page became a place for people who had found pictures, marriage certificates, army discharge papers and other documents to post what they had found as well as place for victims to reclaim lost items.
The page, which has nearly 98,000 followers, returned more than 2,000 pictures to their owners and, at times, items of those who died were returned to surviving family members.
Bullion plans to leave the site up through today. “I plan to take it down on the one-year anniversary as a sign of hope and recovery,” she said.