Loss and Resilience in Alabama: A Photo Essay on the Tornadoes of 2011

The spring of 2011 brought violent storms to middle America, and some of the fiercest moved through Alabama on April 27. An EF-4 storm cut a swath from Tuscaloosa through parts of Birmingham, killing about 60 people, and an EF-5 tornado worked through northwest Alabama destroying downtown Hackleburg and killing an estimated 72 people.

Retired, I occasionally travel to visit events and places of interest. I lived in Alabama for 20 years yet had never experienced storms like those of April 27.

This story is about destruction and its aftermath. People rebuild slowly, and their lives are never quite the same. They need time to recover and salvage what they can, then gradually make plans for new beginnings. Many decide to seek their fortunes elsewhere and put their properties up for sale.

The most significant rebuilding will be a new Wrangler distribution center, which will replace the one destroyed in the tornado. The site is cleared of debris, and the company hopes to open again in early 2013, employing more than the 150 people it employed before the storm. The company received incentives from Marion County, Hackleburg, and the Alabama, totaling about $1.3 million. The private investment by Wrangler will be much larger.

All of us retirees have surely suffered set backs in life. We never recover precisely what we were—tragedy and failure reshape us. The losses in the tornadoes of 2011 were huge, and the storms have forced people into lives they never elected. There is little to do except build the storms into their personal stories and rebuild their lives toward new hopes.