ALABAMA – In just three days in April of 2011, over 300 tornadoes battered the United States in one of the most extreme weather events in history – killing hundreds, and destroying nearly everything in their wake. The Discovery Channel has put together an awesome program detailing the events of those three days. To watch it on Discovery Channel click here for a complete schedule.
CHALYBEATE SPRINGS, AL – Smoke filled the sky. The same sky that recently loosed a monster on Lawrence County, Alabama. The same sky that was filled with the brightest stars I’ve seen in years in the time before the lights came back on.
This sky was dark, billowing it’s foul clouds across the torn landscape, choking people who were working to clear away the remnants of the lives they’d been living before the storm blew it over the mountain to Hillsboro and on up into Tennessee.
A family sat huddled together in the small living room of a nearby house. A young woman clung to her mother. Her eyes were red-rimmed, whether from tears or from the heat of the fire, I couldn’t tell. She looked up at me helplessly, “I thought I was ready for it to be gone. I thought I was tired of looking at it all piled up out there, but I didn’t expect it to hurt so much,” said Kristie Jetton.
“We lived there for thirty-two years,” said her father, Kenneth Hutto, in a hushed voice.
The Hutto/Jetton family is only one of dozens of families with similar stories. They told of running toward the storm house, of hearing the horrible rushing train-like sounds above. There was debris falling out of the sky, shingles, tree limbs and two-by-six boards came sailing over their heads. Kristie’s husband, Stacey, saw to it that his family was inside the shelter, then ran next door, desperately banging as hard as he could to make sure their neighbor was aware of the tornado. Dewayne Moland had no idea what was bearing down upon them. The two men barely made it back to the shelter in time.
All this took about four minutes. The group inside the shelter clung to one another. “We were all praying,” said Jetton.
“I know this is hard to believe, I mean, we were six feet underground, but I could actually feel the concrete floor vibrating under my feet,” said Hutto.
There were a dozen people and four dogs in the storm shelter that day. It only lasted for about thirty seconds , but when they emerged all three homes were in shambles, as was most of the landscape as far as they could see in every direction.
“The alarms were still going off,” said Jetton. “A neighbor came running up with a baby in his arms. He said he’d heard him crying and found him in the rubble across the road. “
The Hutto’s took the shivering baby boy, who was wearing only a diaper, wrapping him in a blanket to get him warm. The baby looked to be less than a year old, “He wasn’t old enough to walk, “ said Jetton.
The baby didn’t seem to be injured. As the blanket warmed him, he began to relax in the arms of the strangers who had taken him in. Across the road, people were just emerging from their homes – if they still had one. Most of that area was a trailer court, there was little left standing.
About an hour later, a man came wandering down the road, bleeding from a gash on his head, asking everyone, “Where’s my baby? Where’s my baby?” The family made sure that the man was the baby’s father, then returned the child to him. “He seemed stunned,” said Stacey Jetton. “That was a miracle. That baby had been thrown out of one of those trailers’s and there wasn’t a scratch on the little fellow.”
“I’ve never seen anything like this before, and I hope I never see anything like this again,” said Jetton a month later. The smoke is coming from what was left of the home he shared with his wife, Kristie, and their son, Matthew.
Jetton and some of the volunteers who have been working in the area ever since the storms were diligently watching the burn, making sure that it didn’t get out of hand. “These people have really been a blessing to us,” said Jetton of the volunteer crew.
Some of the volunteers are from as far away as Birmingham. They have helped to burn the rubble of what’s left of several homes down this strip of Chalybeate Road. “I’m so amazed at how this community has pulled together, “said volunteer Mark Braselton, of Trinity.
Brent Gailey, whose church, Trinity United Methodist, has helped supply hot lunches to area residents and other volunteers each day during the past weeks, has helped bring in donations from sixteen other churches. He has helped man a 24-hour post on the corner of county roads 305 and 214 so that people could have nearby access to supplies like ice, water, food and medical supplies. Now the group is lending a hand to keep the roaring flames in check.
To date, the Tornado Disaster Team has completely demolished, burned and buried a total of five houses in the Chalybeate area. The magnitude of this disaster would have been compounded if not for people like Gailey, and the hundreds of others who have come from all over the United States to assist Lawrence Countains in this time of need.
People who leave the comfort and security of their own homes and the familiar routine of their daily lives to assist total strangers are without a doubt a perfect example of what Christianity is all about. These generous and caring people have traveled here at their own expense to lend a helping hand to area volunteers and residents. I heard one story from RoyBoy Henderson about a man he plays Farmville with on the computer. The man just loaded up a truck and trailer with supplies and brought them here, no questions asked, quiet thanks accepted. The two had never met in person before the man pulled up with the supplies.
Everywhere I went, the people look so tired, just plain ol’ worn out with worry and exhausted from the gigantic effort. Stacey Jetton walked in to get a little relief from the heat.
He, too, looked tired and care-worn but joked a little, trying to ease the strain of watching their home disintegrate before their eyes. People who have lost their homes to the storms shouldn’t have to sit and watch them go up in flames, that’s almost too much to bear. But Jetton summed it up well. “My family is here. We made it through the storm, and the rest can be replaced,” he said. “My father-in-law built that storm house after the ’74 tornados and it’s probably the best money he’s ever spent – it saved our lives.”
Reprinted with permission:
The Moulton Advertiser, and it’s author, Loretta Gillespie
HAMILTON, AL -About fourteen miles down AL-17 from Hackleburg you will find the small town of Hamilton; a small town with a HUGE heart. Their neighbors to the north in Hackleburg bore the brunt of an eF5 tornado that virtually destroyed their town on April 27th. Virtually every public building in town was destroyed or heavily damaged and the county’s largest employer, the Wrangler jean plant was flattened. Dozens of people lost their lives and hundreds of homes were destroyed. A tragedy for any town but especially for Hackleburg a town of only 1,600 people. But the story doesn’t stop in this town as this monster tornado ripped through several other small towns and crossroads in Marion county leaving hundreds of people without homes and jobs.
When the Red Cross pulled out of their relief center in Hamilton they asked the mayor Bobby Holliday if there was a non-profit that could step up and take over the relief center. Frieda Palmer and Jeff Martin owners of the Reins of Life Youth Ranch didn’t hesitate a minute in deciding to jump in and help their fellow citizens. Every day since May 1st the Reins of Life Disaster relief center has received donations from around Alabama and the country and worked tirelessly to get them into the hands of those who desperately need them. This part of Alabama is very remote and with the major employer in the area out of business the needs will be ongoing here for quite some time. Even with all the needs here this town shared from their stores with the people in the mid-west [see article]
A little background on the Reins of Life Youth Ranch which is located on 85 acres just outside of town. It is a full time ministry that has had to cancel fundraisers that they depend on to continue to operate. Since taking on the relief effort they have only taken in $350. Their horse rescue program is geared towards children of disadvantaged, low income situations who come out to the ranch to learn about farm life and help care for the horses. The children ‘earn’ riding lessons and these lessons help them build confidence, conquer fears and develop compassion. [more about Reins of Life]
If you would like to help support them as they continue to meet the daily needs of the people of Marion County, Alabama you may make your donation through PayPal.
Reins of Life
267 Cotton Gin Road
Hamilton, AL 35570
Reins of Life Youth Ranch is a non-profit 501 (c)3 and all donations are tax deductible.
For more information contact Frieda at 205-546-0955
stormHOPE.org NOTE: Please help us get the word out about their needs by using the share links below and reposting this article across the Internet. Thank you.
Janice Vice of Hackleburg shares the story of surviving the tornado that destroyed the small west Alabama town. Huddled in their storm house they rode the storm out with their grandaughter and emerged after the storm to a scene of utter destruction. This is her story…
The good folks of the Lowrey Team in Huntsville loaned their truck to OUR STATES UNITED affiliate North Alabama Disaster Relief in Ardmore (NADRA) so that they could deliver a load of relief supplies to Hackleburg and Phil Campbell, Alabama. The truck was unloaded there and reloaded with supplies that were desperately needed in Flat Rock, AL. “It is wonderful to see the centers across the state sharing with each other to make sure all of the people in need are taken care of” said Tiffany Watkins of NADRA.
Telling the story of a traumatic event in one’s life is an excellent way to work through what the person experienced. Just the other night I saw a story on the local news and a doctor was being interviewed about how the tornado victims could cope with all of the emotions they have after the storm. His advice? Journaling. He said that writing down what you experienced is a good way to work through it. April 27th is a day none of us will ever forget. As I have traveled around Alabama I have heard countless stories and recorded many of them to be shared on this website. Stories have been told on Facebook and pictures are all over the internet documenting this historic event in the southeast.
Found this video on YouTube and thought it was well done. Here is what the author says, “The strength, resilience, and solidarity of our communities have brought us closer together. I love all of my friends in East Limestone, you are now my family. I love my family in Cullman. April 27, 2011 has changed us forever. Please pray for the beautiful people of North Alabama. They are the most special people I know.” – Uploaded on YouTube by imstardancer12 on May 1, 2011