On March 15, 2008, a tornado ripped through a corner of Polk County into Floyd County, killing two people, destroying homes and toppling trees. One of those killed by the storm was Betty’s husband, Jerry.
“Today is my husband’s birthday,” Albers said, speaking with the Rome News-Tribune days before the anniversary of the storm.
At the request of her granddaughter who lived nearby, Albers left her home to seek better shelter before the tornado hit, but Jerry had decided to remain behind.
She rarely mentioned the man she spent 48 years with, choosing to focus instead on the outpouring of support she received from the community and her surviving family following his death.
“My church had a ‘Stock the Home’ party,” she said. “I needed everything, you know. This morning I got out the ironing board that was given to me — it floods over me, my gratefulness. I don’t have anything, really, that somebody didn’t give me.”
The tornado wiped Albers’ house on Old Wax Road into the backyard, leaving behind a patchwork of exposed linoleum and concrete floors.
“I found plastic items and metal things but all the glass was broken,” she said.
Rain and mud ruined most of her clothes, photographs and furniture.
Remembering others who grieved
But, as much as she lost, Albers stopped to remember her friend Bonnie Turner, the other person killed, and said the Turner family lost much more.
“The Turners just didn’t have anything,” she said. “My stuff was more, just blown.”
And, Albers did have a few unexpected items turn up. One was a Bible that had belonged to her grandfather. The back of the large book was missing, its front cracked and bent, but most of the tissue-thin pages were still readable.
While the Bible remained almost entirely intact, Albers’ composure momentarily broke as she recalled finding, opening and reading the first verse her eyes settled on — Chronicles 7:14.
“If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”
After reading the verse aloud, a smile wiped away her tears and she said, “I am just really glad to get that.”
A single piece of furniture, a table, was also salvaged from the debris, although it had to be pieced back together. She proudly keeps it displayed directly inside her front door.
The table had been built by a family friend and childhood neighbor. Her mother had bought it, and Albers inherited the table. She said a lot of work had been put into recovering the broken pieces and it meant a lot to have it.
Albers decided not to rebuild on the land where the house once stood but plans to have the wrinkled ground flattened and replant the trees, which were uprooted. One of the few remaining trees is a tulip tree that still leans toward the house that no longer stands.
“I can’t remember whether my boys gave the tulip tree to their daddy for his birthday or for Fathers Day, but I think it’s so pretty,” she said. “It’s a miracle it survived.”
Cats still prefer old house
Surprisingly, all of the Albers’ cats survived the storm too. Orange, a tabby, was discovered under flooring and beside a leaking butane tank being removed a few days after the tornado hit.
For now, Albers — along with Orange — rents a house about a mile away from her old home.
“We moved into that house on May 15, 1965. I remember because it was right before we were expecting our first child,” she reminisced. “Both of our sons grew up there. That was the only home they ever knew. I wanted to stay nearby because my son (still) lives around here.”
Two of her cats stubbornly refuse to leave the old homestead, returning anytime she brings them to her new home.
The ground near the foundation of the her old house is spotted with sunflower stalks. Albers said the flowers, which were her husband’s favorite and seemed impossible to grow before, popped up everywhere after the storm.
“A whole lot of living went on down here,” said Albers with a sigh. “I still don’t know how I feel. I don’t have anything except the memories. But, it’s been a real good time of remembering.”
EMA chief recalls deadly day
Floyd County Emergency Management Agency Director Scotty Hancock also remembers the day well.
“It’s one of the worst disasters we’ve had,” he said. “We learned how important it was to set up a perimeter around the area, how to deal with the media and how to set up a joint information center.”
The EMA director said volunteers and the Community Organization Active During Disasters played a crucial role after the storm.
“All of our emergency volunteers worked hard and all together,” Hancock recalled. “They were a huge part, especially in long-term recovery.”
Families in the surrounding area received toiletries and other necessities for the weeks after the storm. Albers said even after giving things to the Turners, she still has Kleenex and paper towels a year later.
The Community Emergency Response Team was another group that aided families and emergency crews. CERT provided three meals a day to those in need, for the first 10 days following the tornado.
Hancock said the local EMA team realized they needed a radio system upgrade because they discovered patches where there was limited coverage.
Floyd County EMA also applied and received a grant for a new emergency weather alert system that will call citizens and warn if there is imminent danger.
“People can register with four phone numbers,” Hancock said. “It is low cost and low maintenance and better than any siren.”
The new alert system should be completed and implemented within the next couple weeks.