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Ten Years Later: Dekalb County remembers day of deadly 2011 tornadoes

Then, the tornado ripped the roof off Katy's Katfish. Randy Moore says, “We felt a hard boom, which was actually the beam that fell down on these tables out here."

RAINSVILLE, Ala — Rainsville was one of the cities in the Valley hit hardest ten years ago. 

Our team spent the day in Dekalb County and spoke with people who experienced the destruction of the 2011 tornadoes firsthand and those who responded to the damage.

We started by meeting with Dekalb County Sheriff Nick Welden. He tells us, “It’s just something-- something that you pray everyday you never have to go through again.” 

Sheriff Welden was a state trooper when the deadly tornadoes ripped through the county back on April 27th 2011. 

The Dekalb County Sheriff's Office gave us access to the photos included in the story to show what the tornadoes left behind.

The damage takes your breath away. Sheriff Welden was one of the first responders who helped with search and rescue and cleanup. He shares, “That day is a day that will forever burn in my memory. I made a lot of good friends that day. You know, and I saw a lot of really bad things. A lot of people came together. That’s what’s really good about Dekalb County, we can come together. That was one of those times when we really needed each other.” 

The sheriff says the gravity of the damage was something that the people in Dekalb County had never seen. Some areas were unrecognizable. 

Sheriff Welden tells our reporter, “There were houses gone that you didn’t even know there were houses there, first of all. There were people missing for days… Of course around Rainsville, Sylvania area and the far north end of the county around Cartersville. There were places there that I grew up at and I had no idea where I was at. The roads didn’t look the same. The scenery and the buildings that were once there were gone. When it came through it definitely left a trail of destruction.” 

One of the buildings left ripped apart in the wake was Katy’s Katfish, a restaurant in Rainsville. We got a look at what was left of it after the tornadoes in 2011. We talked to the owner, Randy Moore, who says he’ll never forget that day. The restaurant was open. He tells us what things were like moments before the tornadoes hit.  “Most of the customers had left. Everyone had left. There were some friends around waiting for their friends to get out so they could go. When we heard it was coming this way, we just all got in the ladies bathroom. It was I think 12 of us. A minute or two later it was done.” 

Then, the tornado ripped the roof off the building. 

Moore takes us back to that moment. He says, “We felt a hard boom, which was actually the beam that fell down on these tables out here. Actually, everything above us didn’t come off so we were actually blessed...The lord had to be watching after us. There were just too many people around here that got hurt. So many people lost their family, their children, grandparents.”

No one at Katy’s Katfish was hurt that day. But, more than 30 people were killed in Dekalb county. Those people are honored at another place destroyed by the tornadoes. 

Ten years ago, the building was known as the civic center, after the tornadoes destroyed most of it it looks almost unrecognizable. Today, it stands rebuilt and known as the Dekalb County School Coliseum. 

The people who lost their lives in the tornadoes on April 27, 2011 will not be forgotten. Their names are etched into this memorial at the Dekalb County Schools Coliseum. 

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