The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

October 26, 2011

4.27.2011: Six Months Later

By Kelly Kazek

ATHENS — Thursday marks the six-month anniversary of the Super Outbreak that devastated Limestone County.

On April 27, tornado sirens began sounding at about 9 a.m. It is not an uncommon sound in Limestone County, but this day, the warnings came in waves — 92 would sound across northern Alabama, finally ending late in the afternoon when deadly tornadoes tore down TVA lines that powered the sirens.

It was a day when many prayers were answered — dozens of people whose homes blew away around them somehow survived. It was also a day of sorrow: Four Limestone Countians lost their lives. As many as 450 homes were destroyed, leaving their occupants homeless, and another 250 were damaged.

It would be six days before power was restored to most areas of Limestone and Madison counties, but on those streets where home after home was reduced to piles of rubble and utility poles were yanked from the earth, it would be several weeks before power was restored. Only those in Athens city limits had power, making the city a popular stop for residents in Madison, Morgan and Cullman counties, and sometimes as far away as Birmingham, to get gas, groceries, or a hotel room. It was a surreal time.

Many mourned lost loved ones. Hundreds wandered through the rubble of their homes, wondering how they would rebuild their lives.

The workplaces of most people also were without power and they could do nothing but try to grill their unrefrigerated meats, read the newspaper for curfew information or power updates and listen to battery-powered radios.

Those who could work — newspaper reporters, emergency and utility crews, restaurant workers — had more than they could handle. No one questioned those who wore jeans and tennis shoes or heavy boots, or who wore caps to cover unstyled hair. There were, after all, urgent tasks at hand.

Among the seven tornadoes to hit Limestone that Wednesday — of the 62 statewide and 214 across the South — was an EF5, the strongest and deadliest. This twister traveled 132 miles, including 106 in the state of Alabama, and took nearly the same path — from Swan Creek Management Area through Tanner, across U.S. 72 and into the East Limestone community — as the deadly F5 took on April 3, 1974. Many people lost their homes for a second time on April 27.

In a special section today, The News Courier looks at lessons learned, changes implemented and continuing recovery efforts.