Alabama County Still Feeling Effects of Tornado

By LUCY BERRY | June 9, 2014

Glenn and Carla Brooks stood among the rubble of their damaged milk barn in rural Limestone County on a recent Thursday morning, taking in the destruction that occurred at their property more than a month ago.

The cattle and chicken farmers who have two small children were among thousands of Limestone residents affected by the April 28 storm that killed two and injured 20 others across the county.

Fierce straight line winds combined with a tornado flattened this neighborhood near Athens, Alabama. Ed Edahl/FEMA
Fierce straight line winds combined with a tornado flattened this neighborhood near Athens, Alabama. Ed Edahl/FEMA

It’s been several weeks since the violent twister wrecked homes and businesses throughout the Athens area. While some have begun to pick up the pieces and rebuild, others in Limestone County continue to struggle.

“We had two chicken houses blow down, we lost our hay barn, we lost the new barn that was just about finished,” Carla said. “There was structural damage to our enclosed shed. On our milk barn, the tornado took the front half off of it. Our rental house was taken off the foundation and moved into the driveway.”

The couple suffered extensive damage to their brick home and the two-bedroom dwelling where Glenn’s daughter from a previous relationship lived. Several horses and cattle also died or were injured in the storm.

The Limestone County Emergency Management Agency reported at least $2.75 million in tornado damage during the April storm. At least 400 homes were affected and 16,000 people were temporarily left without power.

The Brooks are looking at least $750,000 in damage to their Magic Brook Way farm, which spans more than 230 acres and has been in Glenn’s family since the late 1950s. That estimate doesn’t include the lost business in the two weeks after the storm.

“It’s been very stressful,” Carla said. “We were in shock for a few weeks, then it wore off, then it’s stress. It’s just been unbelievable. We’re just taking this one step at a time.”

Hickory Barn BBQ owner Bill Davis was prepared to feed storm victims the weekend before the storm hit, but he had no idea the nearby community of Coxey would suffer so much devastation.

Davis’ restaurant was damaged during the tornado and his nearby pithouse destroyed. Instead of working to recover his own losses, Davis and a crew of workers served hot food to anyone in need of a meal outside Blue Springs Elementary for six days.

In the weeks following the storm, Davis has applied for assistance from FEMA and the Small Business Administration, only to be turned away. Davis, whose restaurant is temporarily closed and losing about $5,000 a week in profits, estimates it will cost $80,000 to rebuild his business.

“It’s had a pretty big impact on our lifestyle,” he said.

Davis is looking for a new building in the Athens city limits so he can sell alcohol. A woman who lives about half a mile from the restaurant on U.S. 72 has donated a metal building to Hickory Barn BBQ, which plans to repurpose it into a pithouse.

Hickory Barn BBQ will reopen in mid- to late-August, but continues to cater events across the Tennessee Valley to make ends meet. Davis said they will serve food outside the existing restaurant on the Fourth of July.

Like Davis, Harvell Motor Co. owner Charles Harvell’s business remains closed weeks after the storm.

Harvell said the tornado broke the car dealership’s windows, destroyed the outdoor canopy, damaged cars and resulted in water damage on the floors.

Harvell, who was at home with his grandchildren when the storm hit, said there’s no way to estimate the cost of damage to his business, but he believes “it’s going to be in the thousands.”

“I didn’t find out my business was damaged until the day after the storm, because I couldn’t get out of the road I lived on to even come and check because there was so much damage,” he said. “Power lines were down, trees and debris were all over the roads, so I just had to wait and see.”

S&Z Grocery at the corner of U.S. 72 and Shaw Road had some damage to the roof, signs and knick knacks, but stayed open in the days following the tornado. Owner David Marks believes the decades-old convenience store was protected by an old cotton gin behind the building.

The generosity of volunteers continues in the wake of the deadly storm, Marks said.

“It was kind of amazing to me what everyone did,” he said. “They really made it all work.”

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