Copyright ©2011 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

There were more tornados in a single day last week than any other day in U.S. history. Three hundred twelve twisters touched down across the southeastern states, causing billions of dollars in damage and killing more than 340 people.

Alabama took the brunt of the storm, with massive destruction in Birmingham and Tuscaloosa, which is home to the University of Alabama. Many smaller towns were also devastated. As Tanya Ott reports from member station WBHM, some of those communities are feeling ignored.

TANYA OTT: A backhoe pushes what's left of Cathy Purser's house into a big pile. Purser and her husband have lived in the northwest Alabama town of Hackleburg for 34 years, but, she says, it will never be the same.

Ms. CATHY PURSER: We were just lucky. All of my neighbors is gone. They all died around me, every one of them. It's two people up there on the hill, the lady right there, the man and woman behind me. A lady behind them, a lady on down the road, a man on down the road.

OTT: There are nearly three dozen confirmed deaths in this town of 1,400.

Ms. PURSER: They're all gone.

OTT: Purser and 10 other people survived by huddling in her basement. She says it took days for news of the devastation to reach the rest of Alabama.

Ms. PURSER: Nobody, I don't think, knew it hit Hackleburg, because there's a TV station that a lot of us watch in this area, and someone called in and, you know, told him, you know, Well, what about Hackleburg? And he said, Well, what about Hackleburg? We're such a small community and a small town, nobody's ever heard of it. And they didn't know.

State Senator ROGER BEDFORD (Democrat, Alabama): People know Tuscaloosa, they know Birmingham.

OTT: State Senator Roger Bedford says, what people don't know is Hackleburg, Phil Campbell, East Franklin and dozens of other small communities that were hit by tornadoes. Yesterday, Bedford was in Hackleburg, his mother's hometown, to see the damage for himself.

Over at the First Baptist Church, local residents and volunteers line up for a hot meal.

Unidentified Woman: Do you want - we have green beans, chicken and dumplings, pears. You want the works?

OTT: Over plates of mac and cheese, Wanda and William Terry say a family member has a generator. They've been watching some of the TV coverage, and every five minutes, it's a story about Tuscaloosa.

Ms. WANDA TERRY: I don't know if they don't realize how bad it is here or if they're just I don't know, you know. It kind of makes you feel ignored in a way, you know?

Mr. WILLIAM TERRY: That is true. But when you think about it, Tuscaloosa's a much bigger city, and they have a lot more injuries and probably casualties, too, you know. And so they have to concentrate where the need is needed first. And in the bigger areas, they need more help there than what they do here.

OTT: Dave Fagan is the damage assessment manager for an American Red Cross team. He says part of the challenge with small, rural towns is that rescue crews and volunteers have a hard time getting into them.

Mr. DAVE FAGAN (Damage Assessment Manager, American Red Cross): If we have roads like I noticed the bridge was out in one area down here. We can't get there. We got to find some other way of getting there.

OTT: There's just one main road to town, and for a while it was impassable because of downed trees. The town also doesn't have any local media no TV, no radio so it's hard to get word out about the damage.

Yesterday, the Red Cross declared Hackleburg 75 percent destroyed. Every building in downtown is a pile of rubble. The school is demolished. The largest employer a Wrangler jeans plant might not reopen. Everyone agrees it won't be months but years before Hackleburg and other small towns across the Southeast recover.

For NPR News, I'm Tanya Ott in Birmingham, Alabama.

(Soundbite of music)

WERTHEIMER: This is NPR News.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.