As a tornado ripped a path toward Rainsville, Ala., teacher Kelly Jackson huddled in a neighbor’s safe room with her son. The pressure built in her ears, worse than any airplane take-off, as they hunkered down for minutes that felt like hours.
They emerged to the sounds of neighbors yelling for help and widespread destruction. Down the road at Plainview High School, a K-12 school where Jackson teaches first grade and she herself graduated, the campus was in shambles. Entire buildings and rooms were completely gone. Roofs were blown off. The school was flooded. There was debris everywhere.
“When I saw it, I began to cry,” said Jackson. “I cried for all the memories I had there and for all the memories I knew my own child would miss out on. I cried for all the children whose lives had been touched by this tragedy. I didn’t know if my students were safe. I didn’t know if all my co-workers were safe.”
It was a scene that played out across the South during the last week of April, as tornadoes ripped through Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Virginia, killing 354 people and causing an estimated $5.5 billion in damage. Just a few weeks earlier, a tornado and flooding had similarly devastated parts of Missouri.