Firefighter recalls terror of April 27 Tuscaloosa tornado outbreak

Danielle and Reginald Eppes were in a race against the storm to save their children.

A window had already been blown out at their home and the couple had only a flashlight to see as they coaxed their three boys to wake up and get moving. It was around 5:20 a.m. April 27, 2011, and a tornado was making its way through the Coaling area.

Danielle had the youngest, age 4. Reginald was working on getting the other two, ages 6 and 8, from their bunk bed. The oldest child had climbed onto Reginald’s shoulders and he was about to grab him when the wind became too much for their shotgun-style home.

“I remember seeing the walls go and there went my 8-year-old at the same time,” Reginald said as he recalled the morning of April 27, 2011. “I had a long conversation with God in that moment.”

On the left is the Eppes family in 2011 outside their new home as it is being built. On the right, the family recreates the photo in early 2020.

The morning storm that struck Coaling was the first wave in a historic outbreak of tornadoes, with 62 confirmed twisters touching down in Alabama that day. Later that afternoon, another tornado tore a 5.9-mile path across Tuscaloosa, damaging or destroying more than 12 percent of the city along the way with 53 deaths attributed to the storm.

Reginald Eppes experienced both waves of the destruction. 

Reginald, a Northport firefighter, was getting ready for his second job at Mercedes-Benz U.S. International in Vance when the morning storm came through. Danielle was up early to read her Bible and pray, like a typical morning, but the wind was incredibly loud. The family didn’t have a weather radio, but they knew bad weather was in the forecast. 

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