In Small Towns Hit By Twisters, 'You Feel Ignored' The tornadoes that tore through the Southeast last week did untold damage to towns big and small. But most of that attention so far has focused on the big cities. In the small community of Hackleburg, Ala., some residents say they feel overlooked.
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In Small Towns Hit By Twisters, 'You Feel Ignored'

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In Small Towns Hit By Twisters, 'You Feel Ignored'

In Small Towns Hit By Twisters, 'You Feel Ignored'

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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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.

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