published Friday, February 3rd, 2012

DeKalb County works to honor victims of April 27 tornadoes

Lisa Chandler talks Thursday about a memorial that will be built at the DeKalb County Schools Coliseum to honor victims killedby the April tornadoes last year.
Lisa Chandler talks Thursday about a memorial that will be built at the DeKalb County Schools Coliseum to honor victims killedby the April tornadoes last year.
Photo by Angela Lewis.

TO HELP


Donations for the memorial can be made to the DeKalb County Long-Term Community Recovery Committee, P.O. Box 396, Rainsville, AL 35986, by visiting the memorial's Facebook page "DeKalb County Tornado Monument -- Memorial" or going to http://www.rainsvillealabama.com/tornado-memorial-pg1.html.

RAINSVILLE, Ala. -- Those first days burn into Lisa Chandler's memory -- the heaps of debris, the splintered trees across the landscape and the grief of the families.

The week after April 27 tornadoes killed dozens of people in DeKalb County, Chandler rarely left the Rainsville funeral home that she and her husband run as families came to make arrangement and remember their loves ones.

"I just cried with them," Chandler said. "We were not prepared for something like that."

Altogether, 35 people died in DeKalb from the tornadoes or storm-related events.

The county had seven tornadoes that day, including a long-tracking EF5 with winds topping 260 mph as it ripped across more than 33 miles.

Nearly a year later, the community has begun work on a memorial to remember those who died, to set in granite the events of a day seared into their memories. They hope to have the granite-covered memorial completed to dedicate on April 27, the one-year anniversary of the disaster.

Plans are to have a waterfall and serenity garden surrounding the memorial. Each name of those killed will be etched on scrolls, with a swirling image of a tornado and broken trees in the background. The words "We will remember" will be placed at the top.

Right now it is only a large, triangular hole in the ground under the awning of the DeKalb County Schools Coliseum.

On Thursday, 75-year-old old Elizabeth Coots drove into the coliseum's parking lot to check on the memorial's progress. She was excited to hear concrete trucks would be there later in the day to pour the foundation.

Known as "Granny Liz" in the community, Coots knew many of those who died.

"It was an awful day; we have to honor them," she said.

Plainview High School and the coliseum were both hit hard by the tornado, with the coliseum's roof cracked open and school buses smashed to tangled heaps of metal. Across the street, the Huddle House was wiped off its foundation.

Most of the debris has been cleared. The roof of the coliseum is repaired and is slated to be ready for high school games and tournaments by midsummer. A community credit union has been rebuilt, but the Huddle House is still a concrete slab.

The area is recovering but the scars are still there, so the memorial is not only for those who died, but a tribute to those who survived, Chandler said. It's a place they can come to remember that day and to celebrate the community's strength after the devastation, she said.

"It changed the life of every single person in this county," she said. "We want it to be right, no matter how long it takes to complete it."

Bejan Taheri, a Rainsville city councilman, proposed the memorial, and about a dozen people have worked on the project since August.

Taheri watched the tornado bear down on the city, but seeing the fury firsthand did not prepare him for the devastation afterward.

"We want the new generation who won't remember that day to see what happened and not take things for granted," he said.

about Mariann Martin...

Mariann Martin covers healthcare in Chattanooga and the surrounding region. She joined the Times Free Press in February 2011, after covering crime and courts for the Jackson (Tenn.) Sun for two years. Mariann was born in Indiana, but grew up in Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Belize. She graduated from Union University in 2005 with degrees in English and history and has master’s degrees in international relations and history from the University of Toronto. While attending Union, ...

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