The scary years

Tornadoes were spawned in abundance in Madison County during 1973 and 1974. We lived at 3319 Barton Avenue then. Mom reminded me of an incident I'd completely forgotten. She was driving home from the beauty shop after work–I think this would have been 11/27/1973–and noticed that trash cans were blowing all over the street. When she arrived, Rick and I were huddled in the hall with Gram and Granddaddy. We'd been worrying about her, because there was a tornado warning. She had no idea. 

There were a total of three tornadoes that day in Alabama, and five previously that month. The one we were sheltering from was an F3 that cut across Bob Wallace and Memorial Parkway, perilously close to where we'd lived on Gesman Place at one point. It caused 42 injuries and was on the ground for 14.1 miles.

The next year was even worse. 1974 saw at least 4 tornadoes, although with the Big One on April 3, there were two F5s and two F3s. We had one in Madison County on the 1st. What I remember most strongly about April 3 was my grandmother's prescience. Mom was in Huntsville Hospital (I forget for what, bleeding ulcer perhaps?) and Dad was with her. We were staying with Gram and Granddaddy at the Woodmore Drive house. We'd had dinner at Captain D's, and she kept urging us to hurry up and finish, that the weather would be getting bad. As Rick said recently, “When a woman who grew up in Oklahoma tells you the weather will get bad, you listen.” We watched H.D. Bagley, the WHNT weatherman, on TV and watched the poor radar images. That was the first time I ever heard of a “hook echo.”

The damage was worst in Limestone County, but in Madison, Parkway City, a strip mall (that's now Parkway City Mall) was severely damaged. At the hospital, the patients (including Mom) were moved into the halls. Dad said he saw the tornado from her window. He went off to give blood. It never occurred to me until I read F5: Devastation, Survival, and the Most Violent Tornado Outbreak of the 20th Century  by Mark Levine (a Valentine's Day present from my husband) that the hospital must have been a horrendous scene. Athens and Decatur hospitals were full and turning people away, and that left Huntsville Hospital. I also didn't know Thomas at the time–he was not too far from where the two F5s struck.

The horrific devastation that nature can cause is amazing and unfathomable.

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