Reflections, remembrance on outbreak's 3rd anniversary - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

Reflections, remembrance on outbreak's 3rd anniversary

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The town of Rainsville joined together Sunday to reflect, three years after the 2011 tornado outbreak. The town of Rainsville joined together Sunday to reflect, three years after the 2011 tornado outbreak.
NORTH ALABAMA (WAFF) -

Sunday marked three years since one of the largest and deadliest tornado outbreaks struck North Alabama.

The storms spawned nearly 40 tornadoes across the Tennessee Valley and produced extensive flash-flooding, large hail and straight-line winds. In the wake of the storm, hundreds were injured and left homeless. At least 100 people lost their lives.

The extent of the damage was unimaginable – countless homes, neighborhoods, and entire towns were destroyed. Today, towns have been rebuilt, but people still remember the destruction.

The town of Rainsville joined together Sunday to reflect. Rainy weather did not prevent crowds from coming out to the DeKalb County Coliseum to remember the lives that were lost; some 30 people were killed in DeKalb County.

Lieutenant Governor Kay Ivey was on-hand for the ceremony, and praised the community on how far it has come in three years' time. Rainsville Mayor Nick Jones said the service is a way for people to honor those who passed and to remember to respect Mother Nature.

"It changed this area, I would argue, forever," said Jones. "I just don't want it to be an event that fades in the back of people's minds and forget about."

Mayor Jones said the DeKalb County Emergency Management Agency is in the process of beefing up technology so it can warn citizens about severe weather faster than in years past.

The road to recovery continues in Marshall County, where a tornado hit the Ruth community in 2011, killing five people in one family and destroying many homes.

Three years later, residents of Frontier Road have rebuilt their homes and the neighborhood.

"We were complacent. We took things for granted and now, things mean more," said resident Deborah Head. "You see a sunset, you hug your grandchildren, you pet the dog more and you enjoy flowers. I'm grateful for it. I am blessed."

The Phil Campbell community in Franklin County has come a long way since April 27, 2011. More than two dozen people died when an EF-5 tornado ripped through the town.

Since then, community members and volunteers from across the country have pitched in to rebuild. A new school building is about 75% complete, and construction on an apartment complex is underway. Despite the progress, Phil Campbell's mayor said the big job still isn't complete.

"It goes by fast," said Mayor Steve Bell. "We are still really trying to clean up. We've got some structures that need to be cleaned up."

In Cullman County, one of the last businesses destroyed in the tornado outbreak officially re-opened before the anniversary, when a ribbon-cutting was held for the re-opening of the Cullman County Economic Development office.

County officials said 95% of the buildings destroyed have either been re-built or have opened in a new location.

"It took us that long, but we have worked together and moved forward. If we all continue doing that, we'll be a lot better off," said Commissioner Kenneth Walker.

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