Alabama and other areas of the Southeast are still picking up the pieces following a rash of spring tornadoes unlike anything that has been seen in the region in decades.
The only people who had seen something remotely similar were those who have witnessed first-hand the total destruction and carnage of war, and they certainly never expected to see the same devastation in their own backyards.
According to meteorologists in Alabama, as many as 35 tornadoes struck the state in one day — April 27 — killing at least 240 people. Throughout the seven-state area, tornado damage for the period April 22-28 resulted in a total death toll of 345 and caused anywhere from $3.7 to $5.5 billion in property damage. It was the second deadliest thunderstorm outbreak in U.S. history, after the Tri-State tornado outbreak of 1925 in Missouri, Illinois and Indiana.
Just to give you an idea of the brute force of these storms, one that swept through the tiny north Alabama town of Hackleburg was an enormous EF5 with 200-plus mph winds. The Hackleburg tornado killed 70 people as it ripped through Madison, Lawrence and Limestone counties on a 132-mile path.
Alabama bore the brunt of the storms’ fury, but destruction and loss of life were felt throughout the Southeast.
Prior to the tornado outbreak, weather conditions in Alabama had been less than ideal for many of the state’s farmers. The early spring had been marked by too much moisture in the northern region of the state and not enough in the south. As a result, a number of growers who had intended to plant corn were attempting to swap their corn seed for cotton seed. In hindsight, the delayed planting might have been a blessing, as there were few crops that had emerged to the point of being susceptible to damaging winds.
But agriculture still took a hit. In addition to hundreds of poultry houses that were destroyed or damaged by tornadoes, farmers also have been impacted by miles of downed fence, thousands of acres of flattened forest, and tons of debris that littered their fields, according to officials with the Alabama Farmers Federation.
Farmers in north Alabama also burned hundreds of gallons of fuel to keep generators running during the prolonged power outage. Preliminary damage reports indicate that poultry losses were in the millions with more than 200 poultry houses destroyed and another 514 damaged. Livestock losses also were being reported.
Tornadoes continued their trek into Georgia, where an EF3 tornado was reported moving through Spalding County and a federal disaster declaration was made for 16 counties.
What has proven even more powerful than the storms themselves has been the outpouring of generosity that began even before the last tornado left the region. People from throughout the country and the world have freely given their time and money to help people make the long, slow recovery from this catastrophic event.
As a member of the agricultural community, it makes me especially proud of the way in which various farm groups responded to the tragedy. One of these is Peanut Proud, an organization comprised of peanut industry businesses and grower groups that is coordinating the peanut industry’s response to the disaster. With generous donations such as $10,000 from the National Peanut Board, $10,000 from Golden Peanut Company, $5,000 from the Georgia Peanut Commission and others too numerous to mention here, Peanut Proud is making a difference in the lives of people in Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi.
Included in their efforts has been the donation of peanut butter, water and other supplies, in addition to more than 1,000 backpacks for children in Hackleberg, Ala., and Smith, Miss., whose schools were completely destroyed by the storms. Working with the Mississippi and Alabama Extension services, Peanut Proud has targeted rural areas and farm families that were in the heart of the strike zone, but who might have been ignored by traditional aid deliveries which usually go to the most populated areas. These supplies have gone directly to where they have been requested, not to warehouses.
One-hundred percent of all contributions are used only to purchase items to be delivered directly to tornado victims. Personal and corporate contributions are encouraged and welcomed. If you’re interested in helping, contact LeaJean Manry, 229-723-2802, firstname.lastname@example.org. Tax-deductible charitable contributions to this project can be made to:
Peanut Proud Inc, P.O. Box 446, Blakely, Ga., 39823. Contribution for: Project Giving Back.
For questions on contributions, contact Chuck Hancock, 229-723-2815, email@example.com. For questions or suggestions/donations of peanut butter, water, supplies or logistics input, contact Sally Wells, 229-400-1121 or firstname.lastname@example.org.