WEST LIBERTY — The sky was gray and sometimes spitting snow Saturday afternoon as people remembered what happened one year ago, when the sky was black and spitting tornadoes.
More than 400 Morgan Countians gathered for a program to mark the anniversary of the March 2, 2012, tornado that devastated parts of their community and killed six residents. A seventh died of injuries a few days later. The program at Morgan County High School ran for more than three hours, with food and music, fond memories of what was lost, some tears for those who died, and optimism for the future as the county rebuilds.
The most emotional part of the program was a memorial service that began at precisely 5:47 p.m., the hour when the tornado first touched down in Morgan County on March 2, 2012.
The program included a video showing the devastation in downtown West Liberty and tape recordings of emergency workers' radio conversations describing the damage as the storm moved through.
At the end of the memorial service, the crowd moved outside the school, where volunteers launched 51 "memorial lanterns:" small, colored hot-air balloons.
Seven lanterns were red, representing the seven-mile track of a tornado that struck the county on Feb. 29, 2012; 37 lanterns were blue, representing the 37-mile track of the killer March 2 tornado. Seven more were white, representing the county residents who died.
Among various displays at the school Saturday were handmade quilts with pictures of the storm's devastation, images of all six victims and positive mottoes such as "From The Rubble We Shall Rise."
Josephine O'Neal of Morgan County, who made the quilts, said her home was spared the tornado. She was able to make sandwiches and sausage and biscuits for storm victims the next day.
Later, O'Neal and others in the String Along Quilt Guild made 112 quilts, which they gave to people who lost their homes. "Right after the tornado, we didn't know what to do or who all was dead," O'Neal said. "We just tried to find our families and friends."
A year later, O'Neal says she's confident that Morgan Countians are pulling together and rebuilding.