Museum Exhibit to Focus on Alabama Tornado

By JASON MORTON | April 12, 2013

An oral history of the tornado that devastated Tuscaloosa and the surrounding area on April 27, 2011, will be exhibited later this month at the Mildred Westervelt Warner Transportation Museum.

The exhibit, “Listening to the Storm: A Natural Disaster in Retrospective,” will offer firsthand accounts of first responders, volunteers and survivors from April 23-June 7.

“This whole exhibit, it really talks – literally – about the devastation of the tornadoes and how far we’ve come two years later and how far we’re going to go,” said museum director Shaina Strom.

She said between 50 and 60 accounts have been recorded, but about 25 will be part of the actual exhibit. The remainder will be stored in an archive to which the museum intends to continually add, Strom said. Those wishing to contribute an account are asked to schedule an appointment.

As the recordings came in, Strom said she began to notice a theme of a community galvanizing against the forces of nature.

“We’re really accounting … how we rose up as a community – above racial tensions and economic divides – to make sure people had something to eat and somewhere to go,” Strom said.

The exhibit resulted from a partnership between the museum, the Tuscaloosa Public Library and Alabama Public Radio.

“The Tuscaloosa Public Library is excited to partner with the Mildred Westervelt Warner Transportation Museum on this significant project,” said library spokesman Vince Bellofatto. “The impact of Tuscaloosa’s April 27, 2011, storms – both negative and positive – should never be forgotten.

“This project helps preserve the events of that extraordinary day.”

Pat Duggins, news director at Alabama Public Radio, said the station lent recording equipment and tips on getting quality sound to the museum officials.

The radio station also is editing the recordings to pair them with visual exhibits to provide quick, emotional effects. The museum has obtained photos from a variety of professional and non-professional photographers including a large, high-resolution image of the storms’ path that will be along one of the museum’s interior walls.

Visitors at the exhibit can place stickers on the image of where they were when the storm struck. Hearts will be used to signify those who died.

“What we’ve got so far is pretty good,” Duggins said of the recorded material, noting that Mayor Walt Maddox’s recording is particularly impressive.

“This is kind of a shared experience through out the town,” said Duggins, whose home in the Downs subdivision was in the path. “Everybody who got hit in that storm area suffered losses from one degree to another, and it’s really good to know other people went through that.

“I think it can be a useful part of the healing process.”

The transportation museum is at 1901 Jack Warner Parkway, adjacent to the public library, and open 10 a.m. to noon and 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.

For information, call the museum at 205-248-4931, the city’s non-emergency hotline Tuscaloosa 311 at 205-248-5311 or visit

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