FORGOTTEN OUTBREAK: THE STORM ONE WEEK BEFORE DEVASTATION

Tornado April 15, 2011

It’s called the forgotten outbreak. Just over a week before the devastation of April 27, 2011, there was another Alabama storm.

This one took seven lives across the state, and injured dozens. It pales in comparison to the more than 200 lives lost a mere 12 days later, but for those affected by the April 15, 2011, storm, it was just as painful.

The Alabama Emergency Management Agency’s Division C Coordinator Don Hartley said that just like the April 27 storm, there were warning signs.

“We knew it was coming,” he said. “We didn’t know it was going to be quite as big of an outbreak as it was.”

Hard-hit areas around West Alabama included Marengo County, Sumter County and Autauga County. There were 42 tornadoes across the state, and seven people lost their lives.

“But then when you have this mega-record outbreak coming up a couple weeks later on the 27th, that outbreak kind of got overshadowed,” Hartley said. “What happened a few weeks later just completely pushed it to the side.”

Another thing pushed aside thanks to the bigger outbreak? The areas hit on April 15 weren’t given a federal disaster declaration until after President Barack Obama visited Tuscaloosa after the April 27 tornado.

Those two storms, and several others that cropped up throughout the month made April 2011 the deadliest month in Alabama tornado history, Hartley said.

But some good did come out of the storms, Hartley said.

“Because of what happened five years ago, we are much better positioned to respond to major tornado outbreaks in Alabama,” he said.

Not to mention, Alabamians are better positioned to survive, thanks to the dozens of storm shelters now available.

“One of the major positives to come out of the April tornadoes was grant money that came down for us to be able to put in community safe rooms, and a number of communities across the state did just that,” he said.

There still aren’t enough, Hartley said, but it’s a good start.

The Sapps community in rural Pickens County, which was seriously affected by a tornado on Feb. 2, is a classic example of how community safe rooms save lives, he said.

“People left those shelters and found their homes destroyed,” Hartley said. “Had they been in those homes, they may not be with us today.”

Another good thing coming from the storms? Neighbors being neighbors.

“I think that’s one of the things that emerges after a major disaster is people see that government can’t do it all,” Hartley said. “People are going to have to help each other, and the true first-responders are the survivors of the tornado.”

Coming up on April 27, 2016, WVUA 23 remembers the storm that changed lives and landscapes throughout the state in an hour and a half special airing from 5 to 6:30 p.m. Live guests include Tuscaloosa County Sheriff Ron Abernathy, Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox and many more.

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