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.
Along Veterans Memorial Drive, Birmingham, AL. An EF-4 tornado destroyed a convenience store and gas station.
The gas station is being replaced in May 2012, but the old sign, twisted by the wind, still stands at the left of the photo.
Behind the gas station on Veterans Memorial Drive, theSmithfield Estates subdivision was largely destroyed April 27, 2011.
By May 2012 many new homes dot the same landscape.
A graffiti memorial along US 43 south of Hackleburg. Today the memorial still stands, but the tree has lost its leaves and the weeds in front are higher. Tenants have gone and the owner may not rebuild.
Approaching Hackleburg in May 2011, this subdivision was leveled. A bulldozer at the far right is clearing debris.
Google Map of downtown Hackleburg. Photo taken in 2012 after most of the cleanup. Most of the following photos are near the corner of Main and Walker Streets.
May 2011, corner of Main and Walker Streets. The police station was destroyed.
May 2011, looking north along Main Street. One building stands. The police station, were it still standing, would be at the right edge of the photo.
May, 2011. Salvaged items on a table near a destroyed home.
May 2011. Cleanup after the storm.
May 2011, looking east along Walker Street. The interiors of the buildings are destroyed and mostly gone. The awnings are on the Bank of Hackleburg building.
May 2011, looking into a building just east of the Bank of Hackleburg on Walker Street.
May 2012. Looking north from Walker Street into an area where the buildings of the preceding photos stood. The building wall at the left edge is part of the Bank of Hackleburg.
May 2012, corner of Main and Walker Streets. The police station on the corner and other buildings along Main Street have been cleared away.
May 2012, Hackleburg. Some owners have cleared away the rubble and decided to seek their fortunes elsewhere.
May 2012. A new small house in Hackleburg.
May 2012. Looking past the front steps of a destroyed home. The debris has been cleared and new buildings are up in the background, along with school buses parked along a road.
May 2011. Looking northeast toward the corner of Main and Walker Streets.
May 2012. Looking northeast toward the corner of Main and Walker Streets.
May 2012. New construction.
May 2012. Ray’s Pharmacy in temporary quarters.
May 2012. The Wrangler distribution center site, ready for new construction. The pine tree on the left retains a large piece of sheet metal from the storm.
May 2012. Shelia, wife and mother of two, at her destroyed home. She and her family survived the storm at another location. The family is living elsewhere now, and will not be able to rebuild at this site.
May 2011. Ed lost his 53-year-old son and daughter-in-law in the storm. He survived in a shelter.