Two years ago, those Alabamians who had slept at all awoke to a changed state.
From 4 the previous morning until 10 at night, tornadoes had pounded the state. They killed 248 and injured far more. They devastated Hackleburg and Phil Campbell and Mount Hope. They pummeled Tuscaloosa and Birmingham. They slammed Lawrence and Limestone counties and flattened a factory in Decatur.
In a series of stories during the past few days, The Decatur Daily has taken a look at the survivors. They told stories of grief and heroism, of despair and recovery.
There was the story of Bethel Church of Christ in Limestone County. A tornado destroyed the structure as 30 people huddled in the basement. It did not, however, destroy the church, which has emerged stronger than ever in a new facility.
There was the story of Walter McGlocklin, 69, who lost his wife, two children and his home in the 1974 tornadoes. The 2011 tornado destroyed homes around him as he and family members crowded into a storm shelter he built after the 1974 storm.
There was Justin Adams, 24, of Mount Hope, an athlete who lost his brother and his leg in the 2011 tornado.
“Right now, I just want to run one day,” he said. “When I was angry with God, I didn’t see any of this happening. With him on my side, I know the future will be OK.”
His mother struggles with grief and guilt, angry that she survived a tornado that stole one son and seriously injured another.
All of these survivors recall the outpouring of love and support from the community, both from friends and strangers.
Their accounts were a reminder not just of the tragedy of April 27, 2011, but of the state’s nobility that day and in the days that followed.
Two years ago, we all were Alabamians. We were not Republicans or Democrats, rich or poor, black or white, immigrants or non-immigrants. The only classification that mattered was between those who needed help because they were victims of the storms and those who offered help because they were not.
For a few weeks, Alabamians refused to judge. We did not withhold assistance from those who had failed to purchase insurance or to build a storm shelter. We did not evaluate character. The Alabamians who were capable of providing assistance did so without reservation.
Torn by ideology and partisanship, it is easy to forget the underlying unity of Alabama. Alabamians are a strong and good people. April 27 was the anniversary of a tragedy that will live on for many.
It also is an anniversary that should serve as a perpetual reminder of what it means to be an Alabamian.