Tuscaloosa mayor reflects on 4 years since April 27, 2011 tornadoes

Tuscaloosa mayor reflects on 4 years since April 27, 2011 tornadoes

TUSCALOOSA, AL (WBRC) - "None of us could have controlled what happened to us, but we can all determine how we press forward."

That's one of the ways Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox summarizes where his city stands four years after the devastation of the April 27, 2011 tornado.

On that day, more than 12 percent of Tuscaloosa was destroyed by the EF-4 tornado that carved a path through the city and county. The loss of 53 lives is attributed to the storm in the Tuscaloosa area.

Although Tuscaloosa marked this year's anniversary with the opening of a new fire station in Alberta, there's no large public memorial or series of events, as in previous years.

"I think next year, you'll likely see a higher key event," Maddox said. "Five years is a milestone, and I think at that point, we'd be ready to celebrate our successes and certainly look at where we can get better going forward. The scars of that day are with us. And I don't know if we ever escape the shadow of April 27."

Maddox says over the past four years, the city's approach to recovery has been to take what he describes as the "long view." Maddox believes the benefits are beginning to pay off.

For instance, he points to the current construction of The Shoppes at Legacy Park, a six anchor store shopping center, where part of the Cedar Crest neighborhood stood before the storm.

"That piece of property, prior to the tornado, generated less than $100,000 worth of sales taxes (per year). One year after that property opens, it's going to generate $2 million," he said.

The development near the intersection of McFarland Boulevard and 15th Street will likely lead to increased traffic. Maddox believes road construction projects, beginning soon, will address this.

He says these include new turn lanes and improved intersections with dedicated turn lanes. Maddox also says the shopping center property will have a better grid system, to keep people off 13th Street and 15th Street.

Maddox also points to the Alabama Department of Transportation's McFarland Blvd. improvement project as another way the traffic burden will be eased.

Over the past year, the Alberta area has seen new growth. In addition to the new fire station, The Alberta School of Performing Arts opened in January. Alberta Baptist Church has also rebuilt and reopened at its former location.

In the midst of this growth, drivers in Alberta face a significant detour, with the replacement of the University Blvd. bridge underway.

Maddox says this is a state project that was already planned when the tornado hit, and then had to be delayed.

"When a project like that has to be delayed, you have to wait for its time again in the funding cycle, so we took the next available opportunity. There was never going to be a good time to have that bridge removed. But when you have a choice between leaving the debris on the ground, or getting the debris out, it was really the only decision we could make," he said.

Maddox says he is excited about the rebirth he sees in Alberta and believes Alberta has the greatest opportunity for dramatic transformation, compared to the other recovery areas.

Maddox attributes this to Alberta's proximity to The University of Alabama, opportunities for commercial growth along University Boulevard and new infrastructure.

Maddox says shortly after the tornado hit, he met with a FEMA official, who estimated Tuscaloosa's recovery would take 10 to 15 years. At the time, Maddox says that seemed lengthy. Four years into the recovery process, he believes the estimate is realistic.

"Nothing about recovery is easy. You can't wipe away 12 and a half percent of your city and expect that the journey to come back whole is going to be simple. But the one thing I've learned about this community is that when faced with a challenge, we have a unique and exceptional ability to meet it."

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