Students, officials look back on April 27 tornadoes one year later

Bobby Schiavi (above) walks through the tornado-damaged parts of Harvest five months after the storms.

he year 2011 was an extremely difficult one for Collier Library Technical Assistant Emily Patterson, whose life was turned upside down during the course of four devastating months.

She lost everything in Phil Campbell April 27 to a tornado that wreaked havoc on the home she shared with her family. Patterson also suffered the deaths of her husband, grandmother, mother-in-law and grandfather, which all occurred within weeks of each other.

Picking up the pieces after such an unsettling year has been challenging for Patterson, who said she would have never survived in the aftermath of the storms without the help of her UNA family.

“(Last year) reinforced my view on life,” she said. “Things can be very material and can be replaced, but without faith, I wouldn’t have made it. This (experience) strengthened my faith.”

Patterson, who worked with her family last year to sift through debris and salvage their belongings amid the rubble of her former home, is now building a new house in Tennessee to be completed by late summer.

She said the last year has been surreal, and still finds herself asking whether or not the events she experienced actually occurred. She said she looks forward to re-discovering a sense of tranquility in her new home.

“I want to be hopefully sitting on my (new) back porch, just resting and relaxing,” she said. “I want to take the kids on vacation. There are not a whole lot of huge aspirations there. What I want is very basic. I’m just ready for calm, for peace and not having to deal with everything.”

Bobby Schiavi, a freshman from Sparkman High School, was asleep at home in Harvest the day of the April 27 tornadoes. He realized the severity of the storm after being awoken by the sound of several trees snapping and crashing in his backyard.

One of the heavy branches from the trees struck his family’s house, causing damage to the roof. Schiavi said he was fortunate his home was mostly spared from the tornado in Harvest, but his friends and neighbors weren’t so fortunate.

“I feel like one of the lucky ones,” he said. “I feel supportive. There was nothing they could do about what happened. It’s just how it worked out for them. I feel bad.”

Since the storms, Schiavi has a new outlook on his life and personal safety. He said he and his loved ones are now more prepared for severe weather than ever before.

The last year, in which so many have had to rebuild their homes and lives after the tornadoes, has taught Schiavi to take tornado sirens seriously, he said.

“The (tornadoes) made me more concerned for others, so now I encourage everybody to learn where the storm shelters are in their area, and to know who can help you in situations like that,” he said.

In August of 2011, UNA secured a $15,000 grant through the Disaster Relief Fund for Postsecondary Education Students. The funding was dispersed to approximately 20 UNA students who were affected by the April 27 tornado outbreak across north Alabama last year.

Donors also contributed to a separate fund after the April 27 tornadoes, which has now been established as an emergency fund for future use.