Valdosta Daily Times

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April 23, 2012

Ala. to honor memory of 250 killed in twisters

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Communities large and small are planning ceremonies and events to mark the anniversary  of the April 27 tornado onslaught that killed more than 250 people in Alabama, injured about 2,000 more, and damaged or destroyed tens of thousands homes and businesses statewide.

From the state Capitol in Montgomery to tiny Phil Campbell in northwest Alabama, survivors will gather to both remember the dead and express thanks to the thousands of people who have helped with the recovery.

And just as the storms moved across the state in waves that day, hitting some counties before others, remembrances will spread out throughout the day and into the weekend.

A statewide memorial service with Gov. Robert Bentley and other leaders will start the day at 9 a.m. CDT in Montgomery Friday.

“This will be a program to honor the memory of those who were lost and offer comfort to their loved ones and other survivors who are still rebuilding,” said Jeremy King, a spokesman for Bentley.

An hour later and almost 200 miles to the north, organizers will break ground for a memorial for people who have died in twisters in Limestone County. The April 27 storms killed four people in the county and nine more in nearby Harvest as they tore across the Tennessee Valley, but tornadoes have claimed more than two dozen other lives in the county over the years.

Kelly Kazek, who serves as chairman of a committee helping lead the Limestone County event, said the commemoration is both to remember storm victims and to thank the thousands of people who have helped the area dig out from the devastation.

“We feel it’s very important to honor the people who are helping us rebuild,” said Kazek, managing editor of The News Courier in Athens.

The northwest Alabama town of Phil Campbell is planning a memorial service to recall the 26 people who died either in the city or nearby rural areas. And the city of Tuscaloosa — where a massive twister was blamed for more than 50 deaths — will hold a community memorial service at the University of Alabama’s Coleman Coliseum with Bentley and local leaders, late in the afternoon around the time the tornado bore down on the city.

Events will continue through the night, with a special “God of This City” service at the First Baptist Church of Pleasant Grove, where 10 people died in Jefferson County. A concert featuring county artist Dierks Bentley and former “American Idol” performer Kellie Pickler is planned at a Cullman city park in Cullman County, where two people were killed.

On Saturday, in northeast Alabama, officials will unveil a monument in Rainsville for the more than 30 people who were killed in DeKalb County. Also that day, in the state’s northwest corner, the town of Hackleburg will dedicate a memorial during its annual “Neighbor Day” festivities.

Eighteen people died in Hackleburg, and the town’s school was destroyed along with most of its businesses and dozens of homes. The town school is holding its annual field day on the actual day of the anniversary to give children a few hours of fun, said Sandra Bishop, the town clerk.

“I heard they had scheduled it for that day and I thought, ‘That’s good. It will keep their minds off of it,”’ Bishop said.

More than 60 twisters struck Alabama on April 27, causing damage estimated at more than $1 billion. While the weather was most violent in north Alabama, damage occurred as far south as Washington County, just north of Mobile on the coast. People died in 19 of Alabama’s 67 counties.

Some counties hit last year already have been struck by more tornadoes since then, including twisters that hit near Birmingham in January and in the Tennessee Valley in March. To both increase preparedness and to mark the anniversary, the Alabama Emergency Management Agency is giving away weather radios through its Facebook page all month.

While the governor’s schedule isn’t final for the anniversary, King said he would be traveling most of the day.

“The governor made a point to visit as many communities as he could in the days following the storms, and he wants to visit again with storm survivors and get an update on the long-term recovery,” King said.


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