After Alabama's deadly tornadoes, hope returns

A tornado moves through Tuscaloosa, Ala. Wednesday, April 27, 2011. A wave of severe storms laced with tornadoes strafed the South on Wednesday, killing at least 178 people around the region and splintering buildings across swaths of an Alabama university town.

It has been seven weeks since a string of tornadoes plowed across Alabama, killing 240 people and leaving thousands more homeless.

On Tuesday night in Birmingham, a sold-out concert, headlined by the country group 'Alabama' raised more than a million dollars to help the survivors.

CBS News correspondent Mark Strassmann reports that for some of the folks in Tuscaloosa who just escaped with their lives, Alabama is a landscape of both loss and hope at the same time. For many, it's hard to recognize it.

Alabama resident Faye Hyde only has a slab left where her home once stood. She cheated death by cowering in a closet with her three grandchildren.

Afterwards, they staggered out into ruin.

"I didn't even know where we were for a minute. I was in a daze. I couldn't believe it was our home," Faye says.

42 million displaced by natural disasters in 2010
Tornado experts: How complacency kills
Video: Birmingham's recovery in twister aftermath

Everything was gone.

"I was so glad my grandkids were safe," Faye says. "They were wet and cold. The house is gone,. Your neighborhood is gone. I was thanking God for letting us be safe. As long as the kids were safe, I was okay."

They are safe now, and living in a rented house.

"We've still got a long ways to go. But we'll get there a little bit at a time," Faye says.

In one apartment complex, wiped away by the tornado, Chelsea Thrash was thrown 150 yards. When her mother Kelle found her, she could not walk.

"She was caked in mud and debris. And I just saw my sweet child's face and I saw her eyes open. And I knew she was gonna be okay," Kelle says.

Surgeons at the UAB Medical Center rebuilt her crushed vertebrae. Now she hopes to walk into class this August at the University of Alabama.

"I always knew I wanted to walk again. I never thought I would get that opportunity, to take that first step again. I'm going to get up and show them that I can do it. It's not just for them, but for myself," Chelsea says.

In Tuscaloosa's rubble, firefighter David Wilder and paramedic David Durham remember one child they saved, using a door as a stretcher.

"There were people kind of frantic, running around, and there were also people in a kind of daze. I heard a bunch of people yelling about a child being trapped. He was completely under the rubble. And as we started digging out, there was a leg sticking out from under a door. We knew we had him. He's been on my mind since this happened, because he lived," David Wilder says.

The boy who was trapped is the son of Corey Hawkins, 7-year-old, Mikey.

Upon seeing the kid again for the first time, David Wilder said: "You can ask any fireman in America why they want to be a fireman (and the answer is): It's to help. It's a great feeling to know that this kid had a good outcome."

  • Mark Strassmann

    Mark Strassmann has been a CBS News correspondent since January 2001 and is based in the Atlanta bureau.