Harvest woman remembers daughter, father on tornado anniversary - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

Harvest woman remembers daughter, father on tornado anniversary

(Source: Misty Facison) (Source: Misty Facison)
Misty Facison (Source: WAFF 48 News) Misty Facison (Source: WAFF 48 News)
(Source: Misty Facison) (Source: Misty Facison)
(Source: WAFF 48 News) (Source: WAFF 48 News)
TVA has made major infrastructure improvements (Source: WAFF 48 News) TVA has made major infrastructure improvements (Source: WAFF 48 News)

Seven years ago, a deadly tornado outbreak devastated parts of Alabama. Friday marked the anniversary of the April 27, 2011 tornadoes and it’s a solemn, emotional day for survivors and impacted families.

More than 250 people were killed in the storms that relentlessly pounded the state.

Misty Facison spent the day thinking about her daughter, Katie Cornwell, 15, and her father, Harold “Butch” Fitzgerald, 65. She visited their graves, like she does every year, and spoke to some over her daughter’s friends. For her, it’s important to keep their memories alive with each passing year.  

Misty has rebuilt her life after losing her home and belongings, as well as her loved ones that day.

The details of April 27 are seared into her memory. Her home and her parent’s house next door on Orville Smith Road in Harvest were blown apart.

“We didn't make it in my mom and dad's mobile home ten minutes and it hit. We didn't know it was coming. There was no warning. There was no siren. The sky got really green and dark and gray. We saw debris falling out of the sky and that's when we all ran for a closet,” she explained. “We woke up in the yard, just kind of scattered.”

Everyone was injured, some more seriously than others in the family. Wooden crosses in the yard mark the spot where the bodies of Katie and Butch were found.

“It's a day to remember. It's a day to celebrate. But it’s very hard. It’s a void you never fill when you lose a child. And my dad was my best friend,” Misty said. “It was hard to comprehend things for a very long time afterwards. Everything just seemed like such a bad nightmare that you're going to wake up from but you just don't. It's really there every day.”

Thousands of homes were damaged and destroyed across 43 counties. Major power distribution centers were taken out..

“April 27 was a hard day for everybody. It started early  in the morning. We had waves of storms come in. We kept thinking it would end but it kept going on throughout the day, wave after wave of tornadoes. It was a massive outbreak. As the day progressed, we lost more of our transmission system,” said Phillip Stovall, General Manager of Transmission for TVA Alabama.

Power was out for a week across North Alabama and Stovall and his crews worked to get it restored. 

“We had crews working seven days a week. We set up emergency tents for food and water because there was nowhere you get anything. We kept crews out 24/7 during that time,” he added.

Since that deadly day seven years ago, grant money has helped fund new public tornado shelters in Madison County. For first responders and EMA officials, it also provided a learning opportunity.

“We can look at some things at what is going to happen to the public when you have prolonged power outages and the problems it creates. The big thing is being able to go back and review the things that happened during that incident and see what we can do better next time,” said Jeff Birdwell, director of the Huntsville-Madison County EMA.

Since 2011, TVA has worked very hard to strengthen their transmission grid and their infrastructure.

“We beefed things up. We've added delivery points to Huntsville and surrounding utilities. We've really tried to make sure that we're better prepared if we do have an outbreak in the coming years,” Stovall said.

Misty's family now has an underground storm shelter. She was left with broken bones and a broken heart, along with the rest of her relatives who survived the horrific storm. They’ll never forget that day and everything they lost. Pictures of her daughter and her dad adorn the walls of her home,.

“It changed everybody's world that was impacted. It's a once in a lifetime thing,” she said. “You never think something like that is going to happen to you and when it does, it makes you take every day as if it's your last.”

Lt. Donny Shaw with the Madison County Sheriff’s Office recognized the sacrifices by made by firefighters, EMS, rescue crews, linemen and volunteers in the days, weeks and months after the tornadoes. In a post he wrote:

“All that occurred on that day and with the work effort to follow; fourteen hour days, no power, no air, cold showers, washing uniforms by hand, missing family among other sacrifices, I would find it hard to find anyone who complained, was not in a good mood and did not give absolutely 100% of themselves for the communities we serve and live in. It chills me that it occurred and could occur again. However it gives me great pride at how we responded and will if called upon again. Thank you everyone that served during that time, you all are the best at what we do! Never forget April 27, 2011!”

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