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With Help from Nick's Kids Tornado Rebuilding Goal Completed, But the Mission Continues

Habitat for Humanity of Tuscaloosa house dedication closes important chapter in community's recovery on 10-year anniversary of tornado

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — If you're wondering where Mac Jones was on Tuesday, two days before one of the biggest moments of his life as the former University of Alabama quarterback is expected to be among the first players selected in the 2021 NFL Draft, he was at 106 Juanita Drive. 

It's the new home of Teandre Wooley, who is now more than just a Crimson Tide fan.

"What a wonderful day, a day that was a long time in coming," said Ellen Potts, the executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Tuscaloosa. "Ten years, in fact." 

On the anniversary of the April 27, 2011 tornado, Wooley's new house was dedicated in one of the community's hardest hit areas, Alberta City. He and his family had lost everything that day, and it took this long to finally have a place to call home. 

It also filled in the last gap on Juanita Drive.

Supported by local partnerships, Habitat for Humanity of Tuscaloosa had purchased 36 lots in the neighborhood that were completely bare following the tornado. Two small properties were merged, and another will be converted in a community garden.

It built on the other 34, including some as part of the now 18 for 18 initiative headed by the Nick's Kids Foundation. Created by Nick and Terry Saban, and named after his father, it focusses on helping children, but took on the additional massive effort of building a house for each Crimson Tide national championship. 

The Wooleys are not the 18th house. Coronavirus restrictions delayed that project, but national championship house No. 15 and No. 16 are within shouting distance, and No. 17 is across the street.

"We built 47 houses in 24 years from 1987 to 2011 and since that in the 10 years since the tornado, this is house No. 87," Potts said. "Let your mind think about that.

"One of the things that gave us legitimacy as an organization, because we had struggled, was the confidence and the trust placed in us by the Sabans and their Nick's Kids donors."

Meanwhile, both the neighborhood and Alberta City look like completely different places from before the tornado. In some cases, the buildings were among the 5,300-plus that were rebuilt in Tuscaloosa, and the elementary school became the Alberta School of Performing Arts. 

But setting the tone of the revitalization was the addition of new police station on University Blvd. East, that can't be missed. 

"The challenges we took on that day were amazing," Tuscaloosa mayor Walt Maddox said at the dedication. "On April 27, 2011, this neighborhood had 7. 3% of the city's crime. Today it's virtually non-existent."

That term essentially described everything on northern side of the University Boulevard thoroughfare, where the tornado crossed on its way to Holt and then out of town. 

It's where President Barack Obama said when surveying the damage: “I’ve got to say, I’ve never seen destruction like this."

Tornado damage, April 27, 2011

“Total devastation," Donna Smith about what was left of the Alberta City neighborhood after the storm. "It looked like a war zone. There was almost nothing left, one or two houses that were unscathed, but the rest was just leveled.”

Smith was living across town when the tornado struck, but she'll occasionally step out on her front porch and think about what had been. Like everyone else who was in Tuscaloosa that day, there are numerous images that will never be purged from her brain.

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Among them the total darkness and emptiness one saw looking across the city that night, with the lone lights stemming from the DCH Medical Center and emergency rescue vehicles. Otherwise, there was nothing, just a giant void. 

Now her view includes a new neighbor across the street. 

She's going to be upset, though, to find out that she missed Jones. 

The quarterback who also made an appearance at the Rise Center on Tuesday, didn't talk to reporters before quickly departing. This day wasn't about him.

Wooley gave a loud "Roll Tide" before accepting the keys, and his one of his family members could be heard saying, "Oh my God," after the front door was finally opened.

A few minutes later, Habitat of Humanity of Tuscaloosa started to pack up and finally say goodbye to Juanita Drive. Like Jones, it's moving on, but in a very different way. With the purchase of 40 new lots on the West End it's set to start "Operation Transformation" across town.

The first house, which is the 18 for 18 home, will begin framing next week. The foundation is already in place, and students at the Tuscaloosa Career and Technology Academy (TCTA) will be among those working on it.

It's simply what's next as the healing and rebuilding continue.

"In six minutes, an amount of debris that would have filled Bryant-Denny Stadium four times over," Potts said. "That's a catastrophe that defies the English language."

This is the ninth story in a weeklong series about the 10-year anniversary of the Tuscaloosa tornado.

10 Years Later, Tuscaloosa's Process of Coping, Recovering from Tornado Continues

Throwback Thursday: The Tuscaloosa Tornado

With the Help of Alabama Athletics, Tuscaloosa Has Been Rebuilt Stronger 10 Years Following Deadly Tornado

All Things Bama Podcast: Mayor Walt Maddox Reflects on 10-Year Anniversary of April 27th Tornado

Memories of Destructive April 27 Tornado Still Vivid for Brian Robinson Jr., Kat Grill

78 Minutes: In Tuscaloosa's Hour of Need, the Patterson Family Answered the Call

To Alabama Baseball, the Game They Loved was a Return to Normalcy Following the April 27 Tornado

Tuscaloosa's Rising from the Tornado Inspired an Age of Champions

Nick Saban Reflects on the April 27 Tornado: "It Really Galvanized the Community in a Lot of Ways