On April 27, 2011, our neighborhood in Concord, Alabama was struck by an EF-5 tornado that was reported to have been on the ground for approximately 350 miles…leaving complete devastation in its wake. The tornado touched down just one street from our house. This is not the first time I witnessed the devastation of a tornado but it is truly the greatest devastation I have witnessed and this time it was closer to home than any other.
My husband and I took refuge 2 miles away in his mother’s storm shelter. As we attempted to get back to our house, it was like we were in a bad dream. The devastation was everywhere – trees and power lines were down, buildings were devastated (some of them just gone), and people were trying to get the injured out as first responders had not yet arrived on the scene. I wanted so desperately to get out and help but I feared Michael and I might lose one another. My mother called me as we were still trying to get home and said that more storms were coming our way.
We were stuck…bumper to bumper with others who were weaving in and out around downed trees and power lines…trying to find our way home. After about an hour and a half, we finally made it into our neighborhood which was only 2 miles from where we took refuge. We passed a few homes that were okay and I began to feel more hopeful that our home was still standing. Then we celebrated in joy and tears when we saw our home untouched by even a broken tree limb.
I remember lying awake in the darkness that night. The sound of sirens never seemed to stop. I thought about how just one street away, people were buried, waiting under the rain soaked rubble to be found. My heart ached for families who had loved ones missing, not knowing if they were dead or alive. I grieved with those who would mourn the loss of their home but even more, those who had lost loved ones.
Lying there in the comfort of my home, with such a mixed bag of emotions, I began to thank God for the little things and realized how they weren’t so little. I thanked him that I could hear my husband breathing and see my puppy sleeping. I thanked Him for my bed, blankets, and the roof over my head. I prayed for my neighbors and the first responders. I experienced a wave of emotions from gratitude to guilt. I felt guilty because I got to sleep in my bed while my neighbors had lost everything, including loved ones.
There were 21 deaths in our county that night. It is such a small number in comparison to the total deaths in the state which exceeded 200.
Today, our community has come a long way in the rebuilding process, but we still have a long way to go. The oddly bent and twisted remains of trees are covered in new growth. They stand as a reminder of what happened a year ago today. Like the trees, our communities are also experiencing new growth from the wreckage. They will never look the way they did before, but, they will live on. One day, in time, we will hardly recognize the landscape as having been touched by such devastation. However, our hearts will always remember the loved ones lost on that terrible day. Here is a list of their names.