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From tragedy to action: Britt reflects on tornado anniversary

April 27, 2011, is a day that will never be forgotten in Alabama.

A series of 62 tornadoes tore through Alabama in three waves across 35 of the state’s 67 counties, leaving a path of destruction in their wake.

The storms claimed the lives of 254 Alabamians and injured more than 2,000 others. The cities of Tuscaloosa, Birmingham, and Prattville were hit particularly hard — with entire neighborhoods flattened and some buildings reduced to rubble.

On the 12th anniversary of the event that changed Alabama, Sen. Katie Britt used the opportunity to advocate for early warning systems in her new role as U.S. senator.

Britt was living in Tuscaloosa at the time with her husband, Wesley, and their two young children.

At a hearing of the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Appropriations, Britt questioned Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo about the Biden Administration’s proposed cuts to important funding to keep Americans safe from severe weather.

“This is personal for me,” Britt said. “So, tomorrow will be 12 years that an E-4 tornado hit Tuscaloosa. … (My family and I) by the grace of God are somehow here today. Had it not been for an incredible meteorologist and really good radar, and them warning us in the way that they did, we would not be here.

“I know firsthand that minutes matter, but so do seconds. And (meteorologist) James Spann, in Alabama he’s a legend. We have great meteorologists all across our state, but we often say when he takes off his jacket and you see the suspenders, it is ‘go time.'”

Like many across Alabama, the Britts will never forget that day. They shared their powerful story and reflect on the anniversary:

In the committee hearing, Britt said U.S. Reps. Robert Aderholt (R-Hanceville) and Terri Sewell (D-Birmingham) are also especially interested in working on these issues. She asked Raimondo to commit to work with Alabama’s delegation in a bipartisan, bicameral manner.

“That’s why I am fighting for us to fund an expansion of the South Alabama Mesonet, and that’s why I am concerned that the department’s budget proposal cuts this program,” Britt said.

“This is hardly the only program designed to help Alabamians understand, plan, and prepare for severe weather that your proposed budget cuts.”

In 2011, the total cost of the damage was estimated to be around $2.4 billion, making it one of the costliest tornado outbreaks in U.S. history.

“We were able to get to safety, but only in seconds time,” Britt said. “So, making sure that we have the proper radar and making sure that we warn people and give them that opportunity – I thank God every day that I am here. I thank God that my children are able to be here and live the American Dream.”

Grayson Everett is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @Grayson270 for coverage of the 2023 legislative session. 

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