Several Ashville students live in Shoal Creek, and all were affected by the events of that day. Some students lost parents and other family members, and many of those students living in that area were injured. They were in hospitals and it took weeks and months to heal.
Ashville Middle School Principal Phillip Johnson said he remembers that one year ago, the lives of many changed.
“I was amazed, as were many in Shoal Creek Valley, at the response from the people of our communities,” Johnson said. “Shoal Creek Valley is a beautiful valley with two mountainsides. Just this past Friday, I took a drive out there to see what it looked like a year later. I noticed all the new houses that have been built. I noticed where yards had big dirt spots where trees had been blown down. The other thing I noticed was seeing how that mountain was turning green again. Flowers were coming back. Each of the people I spoke with that day told me there were coming back. Mountains may still be scarred, and lives may be scarred, but the people of Shoal Creek Valley are on the road to recovery. We have hope, and we are thankful for what everyone has done.”
TIME TO REFLECT
James Sampley, pastor of First Baptist Ashville, said he is very appreciative of the opportunity to remember the people of Shoal Creek Valley on the one-year anniversary of the tornado.
“It is a time to reflect, and then at the end of reflection, we want to go on to the sense of being reassured by the presence of God. And we can be reassured by the presence and power of God through the word of God. The word of God is for your listening and your living.”
Sampley read from Psalm 107, which talked about how people cried to the Lord in their trouble, and He delivered them from their distress, and He made the storms be still.
Johnson said the St. Clair Baptist Association, along with many churches, came together to help out in a difficult time.
“Local churches, no matter the denomination, banded together to do God’s work,” Johnson said. “
Fox 6 meteorologist J.P. Dice was guest speaker at the event.
“What a difference one year makes,” Dice said as he addressed the crowd. “I had the opportunity a few weeks ago to go back out to Shoal Creek Valley, both on the ground and in the air. It is amazing what a transformation that has happened. Folks working together and things have turned green again. It doesn’t look nearly as bad now as it did even six months ago. Some of the homes on the lake have been rebuilt.”
Dice said he believes things are looking a lot better there.
“It is amazing, because it was an EF-4 tornado that produced winds of over 180 miles per hour, and tracked through Shoal Creek Valley at about 70 miles per hour,” Dice said. “Hopefully, we’re not going to see that again. It is highly unlikely to see those types of tornadoes again. It is a one-percent chance of tornadoes like that, and unfortunately, it happened last year. It is a pleasure to be here today.”
There were several AES students from the Valley who publicly said thank you to those who helped them after the tornado.
Anita Wilson said these students either lost a loved one or a home a year ago.
Gracie Cunningham, 10, is a fourth-grade student at AES. She lives in Shoal Creek, and remembers last April 27, as if it were yesterday.
“The power went out, and the next thing I remember was rolling,” Cunningham said. “When we landed, we were out in the backyard at my cousin’s house. My dad had a power pole land across him, and my mother was lying right beside him. My grandmother started screaming for me, and when I got to her, she started crying because she saw blood all over the side of my face. I tried to get to my mom and dad, but we couldn’t, and we all laid on the ground for about five hours until people came to help us.”
Christopher Keel is Cunningham’s cousin. He helped save a young boy’s life.
“I saved Homer’s life,” Keel said. “I laid on top of him to keep from things hitting him.
Also, AMS teacher and former archery coach Jeremy Cox made a special presentation to one of his former archers.
“In 2009, we had a national championship team, and Ro’chele Landry was a member of that team,” Cox said. “Sometimes the things that we lose during the storms of our lives somehow find their way back. Some of Ro’chele’s archery awards were lost during the storm, and I would like to return these awards to her right now. I want to thank her for being a faithful and dedicated person.”
Cox said Landry’s trophy was found several miles away in a pond, while a certificate and other archery papers were found in Rome, Ga.
St. Clair County Board of Education member Marie Manning attended Friday’s event.
“I’m impressed the students in the Ashville schools have an opportunity to attend a function like this after all the devastation they suffered through,” Manning said. “A lot of the students lost loved ones, property, and this just gives them an opportunity to reflect on how far they’ve come in one year.”
RELEASE OF WHITE DOVES
What touched those in attendance more than anything was when Butch Glass of Birmingham released 24 white doves during the event – 13 one at a time as each name was read of those in Shoal Creek Valley who died. Then, the final 11 doves were released.
As the doves were released, Ashville’s Alyson Griffin and her daughter, Haley Griffin, sang I’ll Fly Away.
As the song was sung and the doves were flying around the stadium, many were in tears, young and old.
Glass said this has traditionally symbolized a spiritual message of hope and remembrance. Glass also noted that the doves would fly around the stadium until all 24 were in the air. They would band together, and then fly home.
“Believe it or not, they will make it home to Birmingham before I get home,” Glass said.
In closing, Johnson said it was a celebration of hope because they have come through on the other side of the storm and are rebuilding.
“We hope we do not go through another storm,” Johnson said. “But should we do that, we know that we’ve already been proven. We’ve already stood the test one time, and if need be, we’ll stand the test again. But this is a time of celebration, a time of hope, a time of recovery. We will never forget, because the scars will be there. But ongoing healing will be done.”
Contact Gary Hanner at firstname.lastname@example.org.