Alabama marks 2011 tornado outbreak that killed hundreds

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Austin Thomas is shown on Monday, April 5, 2021, in Corodova, Ala., sitting on weedy building foundations that remain a decade after a tornado badly damaged the town's downtown on April 27, 2011. Events are being held in some cities to mark the 10th anniversary of the tornado outbreak, which killed more than 250 people statewide. (AP Photo/Jay Reeves)

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – With lowered flags and somber ceremonies, Alabama paused Tuesday to mark the 10th anniversary of a horrific tornado outbreak that killed more than 250 people statewide, caused billions in damage and reshaped entire communities.

Gov. Kay Ivey issued an order for flags statewide to be lowered to half-staff and proclaimed a “Day of Remembrance” for a “horrible event that has impacted the state of Alabama forever.” Unlike a decade ago, skies were mostly clear and breezes light for a series of events.

In Tuscaloosa, where more than 50 people were killed and entire neighborhoods were demolished, three new memorial plaques were dedicated during ceremonies to honor victims and recall the horrors of April 27, 2011. Kip Tyner, who represents a particularly hard-hit area on the City Council, recalled the sounds of destruction and the smell of natural gas from broken lines after the storm passed.

“I've never seen such desperation in my entire life,” Tyner said.

The University of Alabama tolled its 25-bell carillon, Denny Chimes, 53 times to honor each of the people who died in the city starting at 5:13 p.m., the time to twister hit.

Tornadoes plowed across the Eastern U.S. over four days, killing more than 320 people in six states and causing an estimated $12 billion in damage. Thousands were injured in hardest-hit Alabama, and thousands of homes, businesses, churches and other structures were destroyed. Cleanup costs exceeded $100 million in Tuscaloosa alone.

To help document the outbreak, the National Weather Service created an extensive online archive with details about the more than 60 twisters that hit Alabama.

The Jefferson County city of Fultondale held a ceremony to dedicate a new storm shelter. In tiny Hackleburg, which still lacks sufficient housing and retail businesses because an EF-5 twister wiped out most of the town businesses and many homes, killing 18 people, dozens of residents bowed in prayer while gathered on a road in an intersection in the shape of cross.