Tornadoes in the South
Out of the whirlwind
The South cleans up after the deadliest storms in 86 years
May 5th 2011 | JEFFERSON COUNTY, ALABAMA | from the print edition
PLEASANT RIDGE BAPTIST CHURCH, set on a busy commercial street in Hueytown, a dozen miles south-west of Birmingham, was open for business. So was the Dairy Queen across the street, and the nearby Publix grocery store. Traffic was thick on Hueytown Road. But the church’s business was not strictly ecclesiastical. It was also serving as a Red Cross shelter for those left homeless just a few miles away. Church members were collecting donations of clothes, water and toiletries. And at the Publix, signs at the checkout counters told shoppers they could help their neighbours with donations added to the cost of their groceries.
Such is the nature of tornadoes: even large ones rain intense destruction on relatively small areas. The one that ran from Tuscaloosa north-east to Birmingham was immense, 1.5 miles across and 80 miles long, with winds exceeding 165 miles per hour. Parts of Alabama were utterly ruined, but most of the state was untouched. More than 300 tornadoes tore through the region between April 25th and 28th, an unprecedented number. They killed around 340 people in seven states, with the bulk of the deaths in Alabama. Not since 1925 have more people been killed by tornadoes in a single day, and not since Hurricane Katrina has there been a deadlier natural disaster in America.