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The Hackleburg Tornado 2011



My old high school -- no longer in this good of shape.
I grew up in Hackleburg, Alabama for the most important years of my life. I went to the elementary school, and I attended the high school. Although I left before I would have graduated, I was part of the class of 2002. It was a small town -- very small -- home to only roughly 1,000 people. All I could remember while living there was that jobs were scarce, even during the Clinton years. You either worked at Indy's House manufacturing trailers, or you worked at the Wrangler Plant, which eventually closed down. Otherwise there was a grocery store, dollar store, drug store, a couple of gas stations and a butt-load of churches. Hackleburg, Alabama was tiny, the home of Sonny James, my fourth or fifth cousin. For those of you who aren't aware of who Sonny James is, well, he's a country singer who had a few crossover hits back in the good ole days. He's in the Country Music Hall of Fame. Anyway, the correlation I am making between him and Hackleburg is the welcome sign once you enter the town. When I was 10 years old, and I first moved there, it was the first thing I noticed about the town.

Sonny JamesCover of Sonny James
My cousin, Sonny James

'Welcome to Hackleburg, Alabama; Home of Sonny James!'



When I was 10, and moving from the Phoenix area of Arizona to Hackleburg, Alabama, I had no clue who Sonny James was. My grandfather had to tell me he was my cousin and what he was famous for. I guess I always kind of thought it was cool that I was related to someone that had a town welcome sign dedicated to him, as quaint as the town may be. 

Anyway, that quaint little town suddenly became famous on April 29, 2011 after a series of tornadoes ripped through the southern United States. My hometown of Hackleburg, Alabama was completely demolished by an F5 tornado. During my years in Hackleburg, I never ever saw an F5 tornado. I had seen several funnel clouds and even had to hide in my basement once or twice due to the tornado warning sirens sounding throughout the town.

  Those sirens -- they kind of sound like those old war sirens ya know?

I saw the movie "Twister," starring Helen Hunt when I lived in Hackleburg. I must have been around 10 or 11 years old. The F5 tornado at the finale' of the movie was terrifying and amazing to me; especially on the big screen. 

However, never in a million years was I prepared to hear that a true F5 ripped through Hackleburg during a series of tornadoes that touched down throughout the state, and others. An F5, in case you weren't aware, is the largest, most destructive type of tornado on the scale. The tornado, reportedly, was about a mile wide. The town didn't stand a chance once it touched down on the ground. It ripped through one side of the town and out the other, leaving nothing but rubble in its path. The following aerial video of Hackleburg, AL shows the complete state of destruction the town is in right now. Where houses once stood, nothing but their foundations and debris remain. The elementary school I attended as a child is completely roofless, torn to shreds and my old high school is in shambles. The grocery store, Piggly Wiggly (or "The Pig,"), is gone and so is the dollar store and pharmacy.

News reports say that an estimated 30 people are dead, and many are missing; However, the majority of the town has survived. Still, the town only had a small number of body bags, and have run out. They are in severe need of help and feel alone. I am in shock.

I haven't been to Hackleburg in a good decade or so, but I still have family and friends there. I still stay in contact with high school friends via social networking even though I am in Las Vegas, Nevada now. Well, now I can't get in touch with any of those friends or cousins. Communication is down in the town and so many people are unaccounted for -- it's scary, and sobering. I find myself looking back at my childhood town, looking at the aerial video of something that resembles a war zone. I feel cold inside. It's like a part of my childhood has left forever. The tornado even took the kudzu, which used to literally infest the town. The kudzu grew over everything there, to the point of it being a pest to those who lived there. Now, it's hardly noticeable, as if it was uprooted with the trees and buildings on which it grew. Hackleburg is a different place, one that I can hardly recognize. 

As I write this I find myself hoping that my family members and childhood friends are safe in their storm cellars and basements, waiting to be rescued from beneath the rubble; but I also know that in reality, we may never find those who are missing. The situation is grim and I am still in shock, but I find myself reminiscing about my childhood, my friends, walking through the town to the dollar store during the summertime when I had a few extra dollars with my cousin Crystal. Going to pep rallies in the school gymnasium during football season, eating lunch in the lunchroom with all of my friends that I didn't have the same classes as me, etc etc etc -- but these places are gone and don't look like they will easily be rebuilt. All I have now are my childhood memories, and I find myself wondering if that old welcome sign is even still standing

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