By Monique Fields
TUSCALOOSA, Alabama (Reuters) - More than a thousand people lit candles on Wednesday night and remembered the dozens who lost their lives after a tornado roared through Tuscaloosa, Alabama, in April.
The event, sponsored by the city and the University of Alabama, also honored those whose time, money and energy helped the college town regain a sense of normalcy in the days and weeks following the twister.
"Along with confident hope and the people of Tuscaloosa, we will rebuild our home," Mayor Walt Maddox told the crowd.
More than 1,000 people were injured and more than 7,000 businesses and homes were damaged in Tuscaloosa on April 27.
A month after the devastation, empty structures dot the landscape, and blue tarps form a patchwork quilt in hard-hit neighborhoods.
The vigil came at a poignant time: Two more storm-related deaths occurred this week, increasing the death toll for Tuscaloosa County to 43, city officials said.
Those who attended the memorial prayed and sang together and gave Maddox a standing ovation.
The mayor praised city and county workers, politicians and residents for ignoring geographic and political boundaries and instead making sure everyone who needed help received it.
"We decided resiliency, generosity and poise is going to be our profile in courage," Maddox said.
City officials thanked the first-responders, doctors and nurses, policemen and firemen, volunteers, community leaders, unsung heroes and countless others who put their own needs aside to help.
"They put their lives in danger when others were in jeopardy," Tuscaloosa Police Chief Steven Anderson said.
Tuscaloosa City Council members read the names of those who died. Anthony Little, brother-in-law of tornado victim Terrilyn Plump, lit the first candle.
Little passed the candle to the speakers seated on a stage, who used their candles to light those held by law enforcement officers, who in turn used their candles to light those held by audience members.
"It was awesome," said Linda Spiller, 65, of Echola. "We just have all been a part of this. I just wanted to be a part of the memorial to see the recognition of those who well deserved it."
Brittany Melton, 22, of Alabaster, also praised the event.
"The obvious theme of unity was there, and I really appreciate how they acknowledged the victims and their families, because they deserve something like this," she said.
(Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Peter Bohan)