Surviving the Storm: Family focuses on strength after weathering 4 tornadoes

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) – Imagine surviving one devastating tornado. Imagine the impact such an event would have on you. Now, imagine surviving four of them. That’s the case for the Billingsley family, who also lost their home in Pratt City on April 27th, 2011.

They took me to place where their home once stood. Standing in the location where their family home once stood caused the vivid memories of that day to resurface. “[It] sounded like a train,” Catherine Billingsley said as she recalled that day, “I grew up in Collegeville surrounded by railroad tracks so I definitely know the sound of a train and I would I heard that train that’s when I knew to say brace yourself, it’s coming, it’s here.”

All seven family members who were in the home when the tornado hit survived. Catherine suffered a broken pelvis and other injuries. Their eldest son had a broken leg, while her husband of nearly 46 years, Wendell, sustained bruises and cuts to his leg. Porter, who was also with us when we toured the location of the former home, along with his wife, had minor injuries. Their two sons though, who were one and three at the time, made it without a single scratch.

The Pratt City tornado was the third tornado the family experienced. The first came in 1977. The second in ‘98. Following the devastation of 2011, the family moved from Pratt City to the heritage subdivision in west Birmingham. Then it happened again, this time on Christmas Day 2015.

“After a while you get the feeling, and I think people get to feeling too that you been in a storm and if the storm come and we are with you they are going to experience what you experience so when the storms come they kind of scatter themselves from you,” said Catherine.

For the first time, the family sat down together to talk about painful memories they had kept to themselves for years. They say their upbringing to be strong has kept them from sharing with one another their deepest thoughts about surviving the four tornadoes. They also had another belief in common – the belief in survival. It’s why they are all here today.

They decided to share their experiences with one another in an effort to get beyond both the physical and emotional impact of living through four tornadoes and how they cope whenever there is a threat of severe weather.

So what does the family do now after working through so much devastation? The Billingsley family started going to hotels whenever there was a tornado warning. Once they were at a hotel in Hoover and the wind blew open the door. They don’t run anymore, but they stress you should always take tornado warning seriously.

Not only are they now talking to one another about surviving the storms, Catherine is currently working on a book called “Before I Go.”

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