If you lived under a rock, or don’t care about the South East half of the country, you may have missed one of the worst tornado outbreak in history. April 27, 2011 358 tornadoes broke out, taking with them 349 people and my heart.
I have mentioned in posts before about how I am a big scardy cat baby when I even hear the threat of bad weather. By bad weather, I am talking tornado, or sever thunderstorm that could be damaging wind weather. When the sky turns a funky color, my heart starts racing and I can’t focus on anything but weather updates. I have been like this all my life. Perhaps to prepare me for April 27, 2011.
The day started out on a dark note for me. I woke up knowing something was going to happen, I just didn’t know to whom and to what extent. I woke up, and did my usual routine. Chris and I both worked in downtown Birmingham at the time, across the street from each other. We commuted together every day, and this day was no different. As I sat at work, I was constantly checking the weather. You see, when we left in the morning, it was bright, warm and sunny. A disaster for unstable weather if you are expecting storms that day. There was talk about possibly shutting down early if things were to get bad, but we were playing it by ear. Cahaba Heights and other areas were hit very early that morning with the first round of storms that came through. Nothing too horrific, but some major damage. There was a lot of wind damage through the state actually. I remember my dad calling me to tell me he had some trees down at his house. Little did he know that these trees were the least of his problems.
Shit started to get real when we were watching the tornado coverage in Mississippi. Then it started tracking into Alabama. I remember sitting in our office watching the tornado come right through Tuscaloosa. This is only about 45 minutes away from us. It was unreal. Chris and I made the decision to get on home, and left work. I remember driving up I-59, and Chris was checking the weather on his phone. The weather channel was showing that it wasn’t even really going to rain much more. It didn’t seem serious now. We decided to go to Starbucks, and we sat outside on the patio. The wind started to pick up some, and Chris deiced that maybe he wanted to pick up some cigars for himself to enjoy in our sun room at home.
We headed to go get those, but most of the tobacco stores were closed, so we decided to just head home. It started to get pretty nasty pretty quickly on our way back to our house. It started raining, and the sky started turning those funky colors before a nasty storm comes. I started to cook dinner, it was pork chops and roasted potatoes. The meal was about 15 minutes away from being done, and Chris and I were watching the weather on TV. It looked like a long tracking tornado was making it’s way right for us. We quickly made the decision to turn off the oven, pack up our dogs and head to his parents house where there is a basement.
At the time, our rental house was about 10 minutes from his parents house. We got in my car, and I sat in back with the dogs as Chris drove our way through the pouring down rain, very heavy rain and debris filled the streets to his parents. The debris at the time was from tree limbs and other such nature that was falling due to the winds.
We got to the house and got the dogs inside. We ran upstairs and they were telling everyone to take cover, that the storm was right over us. We all ran downstairs to the basement and took cover by the back wall near the dogs. Chris and his dad went upstairs for a minute, and they heard/saw rotation in the sky and came running back down.
Luckily for us, the storm happened to not make land fall and skip over our area, and land in St. Clair County.
As soon as the storm passed through, it started to calm down and Chris and I headed back to our house. I texted my dad, sister and mom and let them know that we were OK. I told my dad and my sister that it was coming for them.
My sister was at home by herself with 2 of my nephews. Her husband was at work, and her in-laws were across the street. Her mother-in-law called her to come on over, as she usually does in bad weather. For whatever reason, my sister felt she should stay at her house.
She took my nephews and some pillows and blankets and hunkered down in her hallway that led back to the bedrooms.
Minutes after Chris and I got home my mom called my cell phone, she was hysterical. She was crying and screaming and I couldn’t hardly understand her. Then I realized what she was saying. The tornado landed in Shoal Creek, my sister lost her house and is outside looking for her in laws. She called my mom screaming and crying after it went through, and they lost connection. My mom was unable to get a hold of her again and didn’t know what to do. She knew she couldn’t leave to come up there because there were hundreds of trees down blocking the roads.
I called my dad. He didn’t answer at first, then called me right back. He too lost his house. He, his wife, and a few other guys from the fire department were out helping people when they saw the storm coming and took shelter in a pantry that was built in under the stairs in his house. There was more of his house standing than my sisters, but it was a total loss. He told me that he was going to start cutting trees up and try to get to my sister. She needed help because she was trying to find her father in law and mother in law.
My dad never made it to my sister that night. They live about 2 miles from each other and there were just too many trees down, and too many people around his house that needed help. What was left of his house became a triage for the rest of the area. As he went to the area he could get to, he was pulling people out and sending them to his wife for her to help them in any way she could.
My sister eventually found her in-laws. They were thrown a good bit away from their house, landed next to each other in the yard. My sister’s father in law was not alive, and her mother in law was barely breathing and injured. My sister was also part of the fire department, and called for medical help. They landed a helicopter to take her mother in law to the hospital.
Unfortunately, her mother in law did not make it. She passed a few days later, never to come conscience. There was a joint funeral for them. The funeral home was in Pell City, and the burial was in Shoal Creek Valley at their church’s graveyard. I have never been to a funeral were there were so many people. Chris and I had to stand in the back because they ran out of seating. I never made it up to the front to view or see my sister or any of her family because the line was so long that they had to cut it off and start the service. When it was over, I ran to the back to hug my sister. I can’t imagine going through something like that. She had just turned 23 a month before all this happened.
The processional line to drive to the grave side service was just as long as the line in the funeral home. It was so long, and there were so many cars that the back half the line missed part of the grave side service. It was the most amazing thing I have ever seen though. The National Guard and about 300 volunteers were meeting at a gas station on the corner of a road we had to cross to get to the grave side. All of the National Guard stood still, with their hats over their hearts…and all the volunteers lined up around the corner as well as our line of cars made its way through the rubble that was left of the area. I felt like it was a scene out of the movies or something. I cried, silently, the rest of the way to the grave side.
Net and Charlie were amazing people. They are missed greatly. They took my nephew Christopher in as their own. They were amazing parents and grandparents and we were lucky to know them for as long as we did.
Below is a picture of the tornado that decided to skip out on the Trussville/Clay area and land back in Shoal Creek Valley, in Ashville, Alabama. It was decided that it was an EF5.
In this video link below, around 2:52 in, they show my sister’s house. It was brick on the front, you can’t really tell. See the purple wall on the right side? That was my niece’s bedroom…there were other bedrooms there too but they are gone. A tree branch was stuck in the engine of my sisters Ford Expedition. Right through the motor, it was considered totaled as well.