Tiny Alabama Town Rebuilds After 2011 Tornado
HACKLEBURG, Ala. -- It was about 3:20 p.m. a year ago when the skies grew dark over the northwest Alabama town of Hackleburg and a tornado dropped from the sky. When it left, 18 people were dead. All but one of town's 32 commercial buildings was wiped out, including its largest employer, leaving most of the survivors without jobs.
"The building just collapsed on us," said Kelly Dobbs, crying as she recalled the storm hitting her workplace, Ray's Pharmacy, and trying to protect her then-1-year-old daughter from flying debris.
"Then there was a weird noise and lights were flashing and cinderblocks started hitting us," she said.
When the first anniversary of the storm arrives Friday, it will find Dobbs and many others still living in FEMA trailers, while others have moved away.
cafe and grocery store have not been
rebuilt. Some thought it would be
impossible to rebuild what was once
named the "Best Hometown in America"
by CMT, the country music network.
But there are
signs of the town coming back to
life: City hall has been rebuilt and
final plans have been set for a new
police and fire station. Downtown is
largest employer, a distribution
center for VF's Wrangler clothing
company, plans to build a new plant
on the giant vacant lot on the north
side of town where its old plant was
destroyed. Gov. Robert Bentley is
expected to attend a groundbreaking
ceremony on Thursday.
vice president for human resources
for VF Jeanswear Americas, said it
was clear state and local officials
wanted the plant to rebuild in
Hackleburg, which had 1,527 people
before the storm.
clear from the beginning that the
people of Alabama wanted us to be
there," Tucker said.
annual festival will be held
Saturday after being canceled last
year because of the destruction.
Trophies for the festival's car show
line the walls of 72-year-old Mayor
Douglas Gunnin's office. The date on
them will be changed from 2011 to
community has 100 percent worked
together to try to put everything
back together," he said.
he was 3 years old when a similar
tornado tore through the town in
1943, killing four and destroying 85
homes. He didn't hesitate when asked
if Hackleburg would once again be
the town that reminds people of the
fictional Mayberry in "The Andy
back and came through the storm then
and we are going to build back now,"
23-year-old pharmacy technician,
said Ray's Pharmacy is now in a
temporary building, but is building
a new store next door. Another
pharmacy is also being built in
town. She and her daughter, Kaelyn,
have been living in a FEMA trailer
since their small apartment was
was off. The walls had fallen down.
Everything was there, but it was all
gone," Dobbs said.
She plans to
stay in the town, where there is a
major difference from before:
"Everyone is scared to death every
time a storm comes up."
downtown cafe is now covered by a
blue tarp, but proprietor J.P.
Gilbert has set up a temporary
location selling barbecue plates
called J.P.'s Grill.
He said most
of his customers seem committed to
"I hear a
lot about coming back and a lot of
prayers," Gilbert said.
Scott and Steve Sutherland, there
was never any talk of leaving town
after their family's home was
destroyed near downtown, where they
lived with their parents and four
other family members.
is an assistant football coach at
the high school. He and Scott, 21,
worked recently on rebuilding the
house. He said it was important for
the family to stay in Hackleburg.
"It was too
important to keep this community
together. There are lots of good
country people who love life and who
love sports," Steve Sutherland said.