Disaster in Northwest Alabama - Tour Recap
Alabama experienced an historic tornado outbreak April 27, 2011. While Alabama frequently experiences tornadoes, those hitting the area in April 2011 were historic. One of those was an EF-5 that stayed on the ground for nearly two hours. The tornado began near the Mississippi/Alabama border in Marion County, tracked through Franklin, Lawrence, Morgan, Limestone and Madison counties, and then continued on into Franklin County, TN.
Stop 1: Phil Campbell, AL
Phil Campbell and East Franklin were directly in line with the EF-5 tornado and are today still recovering from the aftermath. Mayor Steve Bell and Franklin County EMA Director Roy Gober described the event and how the community planned, organized, learned, rebuilt, and raised awareness following that deadly day in 2011. Our local host was Franklin County Extension Coordinator Katernia Cole.
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Stop 2: Hackleburg, AL
The EF-5 tornado first touched down in Marion County and began creating 132 miles of devastation. It traveled through Hackleburg with estimated winds of up to 261 mph.
The tornado leveled the town’s tiny police station and police cruiser. The officer on duty emerged unscathed after taking cover in the old steel-and-concrete town jail. The tornado destroyed the fire station and flattened the only grocery store but spared employees. It crushed the Wrangler Distribution Center, location of Hackleburg’s largest employer. The tornado destroyed the town’s main restaurant and ripped apart the new $3 million Church of God of Prophecy. The tornado blew apart the offices of the town’s only doctor, as well as the only pharmacy and only mass merchandise outlet. It wiped out the town’s elementary and high schools. All in all, the tornado destroyed 31 of the town’s 32 commercial buildings. In Marion County 23 people were dead; 18 were dead in Hackleburg.
The town has made remarkable progress since that day. The Wrangler Distribution Center has reopened employing additional workers; two new pharmacies are open; the doctor’s office has been rebuilt; and progress has been made on the construction of the new schools.
Lisa Murphy (Marion County Extension Coordinator) introduced the mayor to the tour group. Mayor Waymon Cochran talked about the impact on the residents and how they've recovered and rebuilt the town.
In addition, James Spann recounted that day’s dreadful events. Mr. Spann, a 35-year veteran in television weather broadcasting, has been recognized numerous times for his dedicated work. He was awarded Broadcaster of the Year by the National Weather Association in September 2012. According to the NWA, James was selected to receive the award “For his passionate dedication to serving the Central Alabama community with critical weather information for over thirty years, especially during the deadly April 27, 2011 tornado outbreak.
Stop 3: Brown’s Ferry Nuclear Plant
The Brown’s Ferry plant is located on the north shore of the Wheeler Reservoir. The first TVA nuclear power plant, Brown’s Ferry began generating electricity in 1974. The plant was shut down in 1985. Units 2 and 3 were restarted in 1991 and 1995 respectively, and Unit 1 was restarted in 2007. In 2011, the three reactors were safely shutdown when all but one power line to the plant went out of service due to tornado damage. The tornadoes destroyed 353 of TVA’s transmission poles and towers and took out 108 power lines. Downed towers were the main electrical power supply for much of North Alabama. Some residents not otherwise impacted by the tornadoes were without power for two weeks. Amy Reagan, APR, TVA Communications, hosted our group.