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Cahaba Heights Comeback: A decade after the April 27, 2011 tornado outbreak

Published: Apr. 27, 2021 at 12:38 PM CDT
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VESTAVIA HILLS, Ala. (WBRC) - The morning of April 27, 2011, then Cahaba Heights resident Stephen Norris was forced to take a detour from work, because of a tree in the road. He didn’t yet realize the devastation that surrounded him. It wasn’t until he received a call from a friend, Jarrod Nichols, that he understood the full scope.

In that call, Nichols said that a tree had fallen through his home and he was trapped inside the basement.

“I didn’t believe him,” Norris said. “I thought he was kidding with me, and I said hey man, you’re not trapped in your basement right now.”

Nichols, in shock at the time, admits his response possibly included a few expletives. He asked Norris.

“Why would I call you at 7 a.m. or whatever time it is, just, to make a joke?”

Thankfully, Nichols got out ok, but his home and two cars would have to be replaced. It took about two years to have a new house built, and like many others in Cahaba Heights since then, he says he’s taking more steps to prepare before storms.

“When I had my new house built actually had a tornado shelter room built in the basement,” Nichols said. “When I hear there’s gonna be a tornado I’m obviously taking it a lot more serious, a lot differently than I did before.”

Nichol’s friend Stephen was part of the many teams that went out to help people repair and rebuild in Cahaba Heights. He says, despite the tragedy of that day, it united the community.

“You would never wish the problem to happen, but it does seem to have a way of bringing people together that otherwise might be opposed to each other or might just not know who each other were,” Norris said.

That’s something local Cahaba Heights business owner Katherine McRee can attest to as well. The owner of the Lili Pad says she remembers the normally 10-minute drive to her business taking two hours that day,

“Seeing the damage of the building and the destruction and Cahaba Heights was a moment I will never ever, ever forget,” McRee said.

Ten years later, McCree says thanks to the community, the Cahaba Heights portion of Vestavia Hills has transformed into something even better.

“The revitalization that’s happened here in Cahaba Heights, the addition of Meadowlawn Park that opened like four years ago, and the addition of new commercial developments have happened really with small businesses,” McRee said. “So just to see the change, the community change, and the impact all for the better over the last 10 years, it’s amazing.”

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