On April 27, 2011, a deadly tornado ripped through the town of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, reducing everything in its path to rubble. The Tuscaloosa tornado left a path of destruction six miles long in its wake. More than 5,000 homes and businesses were severely damaged or destroyed. More importantly, 53 people lost their lives as a direct result of the tornado. Today, the city will hold a memorial to remember them.
Anyone who has experienced the horror of a natural disaster in their own hometown knows: You never forget. Every single image and experience from that day is burned into the brain and the images play like a slide show, over and over. When the storm passed, the rescues began. First responders rushed to some of the hardest hit areas, pulling victims from the rubble and rushing them to DCH Regional Medical Center. Miraculously, the city's hospital was just a few hundred yards from the tornado's path -- yet it was not damaged. One image that stands out: Dozens of Tuscaloosa tornado victims, some with cuts and bruises, others with more serious injuries, walking down major streets (littered with cars and debris) towards DCH to get treatment. The walking wounded were everywhere that evening, it seemed.
All total, roughly 12 percent of Tuscaloosa was destroyed by the F-4 twister. The rebuilding is happening, though more slowly than some anticipated. This is the part they don't tell you: Rebuilding from a disaster of this size can take years, not months. But one year later, several local businesses are breaking ground and preparing to open. On Thursday, a McDonald's restaurant that was leveled in the storm opened its doors. The floors were spiffy, the decor was perfect for Tuscaloosa (University of Alabama memorabilia, colors and theme) and patrons lined up for hours just to celebrate. And each opening is a celebration, a moving forward that is desperately needed.
A memorial plaque was unveiled on Thursday, April 26, 2012, in Tuscaloosa's Government Plaza as a reminder of the tornado and its impact on the community. It reads:
In April 2011, one of the most devastating tornado outbreaks in the history of Alabama left an unprecedented path of destruction through the City of Tuscaloosa.
On the street corners and in the neighborhoods, thousands of citizens transformed into heroes by aiding the injured, searching for the missing, clearing debris, and volunteering from dawn to dusk. Called by circumstance, burdened by tragedy, yet inspired by a confident hope, the fury of Mother Nature was met by the best of humanity.
How we fought back, how we refused to quit and how we united will ensure that we never forget our victims, our survivors and our heroes.
This monument is dedicated to those who perished in the storm, and in gratitude to the survivors whose courage and unrelenting spirit refused to let the voice and the heart of the City of Tuscaloosa be lost.
The plaque highlights all the incredible work done once the storm was over. Everyone banded together and worked furiously to help in any way they could -- whether it was digging through rubble to help rescue victims or just simply passing out coffee and water to residents in the temporary Red Cross shelter.
Today, Tuscaloosa is a community forever changed. Before the disaster, citizens in this town of roughly 100,000 people had pride in their city -- but today, that pride is on a whole different level. No one will ever forget the horrible events of April 27, 2011, but in the year since then, residents have learned a lot about hope and healing. And that healing continues, a little more each day.