TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — “Burdened by tragedy, united in hope.”
“More powerful than the fury of nature stands the city of Tuscaloosa.”
“To Tuscaloosa’s heroes, in honor of service above self.”
Each one of those three statements headline memorial plaques around the Tuscaloosa area that honor the first-responders, victims and volunteers of the violent EF-4 tornado that rocked the city to its core on April 27, 2011, killing 53 people, including six University of Alabama students, and injuring 1,200 more.
Tuesday marked the official 10-year anniversary of that fateful day and the city held three simultaneous ceremonies in Mary Harmon Park in Rosedale, Alberta Park in Alberta City and the City Walk bike trail in Forest Lake to honor everyone involved. All three of those neighborhoods were some of the hardest hit by the tornado in 2011.
For example, 65 percent of Alberta City, which was also one of the poorest areas in Tuscaloosa at the time, was leveled and completely demolished.
“I’ll never forget where I was when the monster came into our city,” Tuscaloosa District 5 Councilman Kip Tyner said at the memorial in Alberta City. “The crackling sounds of the power lines, the smells of gasoline, and people screaming and running around, not knowing what to do. It was desperation.
“I had never seen so much desperation in my entire life.”
The rubble that was once poignant and so severe in Alberta City is no longer there. Instead, the community has been rebuilt and is blossoming again with a school of performing arts, new police and fire stations, a digital library, apartments, homes and restaurants.
“There is a new landscape for Alberta,” Tyner said. “This is a new day for Alberta and we are so excited for it.”
Tyner, District 6 councilman Eddie Pugh and District 7 councilwoman Sonya McKinstry all addressed a crowd of about 50 people in Alberta Park, which is right outside the aforementioned fire and police stations.
Alberta’s ceremony was specifically honoring first-responders, while the one in Rosedale honored the lives lost and the one in Forest Lake was a tribute to the volunteers.
"It was God's grace and mercy that he spared us all of us so we could continue to tell the story," McKinstry said. "It was the story of neighbors helping other neighbors. It didn't matter your race or politically. It was all about helping others get whatever they needed..
"As we reflect on the tragedy of that day, that was brought to Tuscaloosa and especially Alberta — yes, we have rebuilt stronger and better — I want everyone to think back on that kindred spirit that was burst forth from everyone working together. God has brought our city a very long way."
Looking back, Pugh, who is a former firefighter of 35 years, says that he was never more proud to be a firefighter on that day. Outside of local help, many first-responders from neighboring cities and states came to Tuscaloosa's rescue in 2011.
"The tornado destroyed fire station number four in Alberta, and once those firefighters were safe, they went out and did their job like heroes do," Pugh said. "That day made me proud but I was also proud because I saw many heroes. I saw police officers, not just protecting and serving, but serving and saving and rescuing. I'm so proud to be affiliated with the Tuscaloosa police department. I saw nurses, teachers, business leaders, just everyone doing their job.
"It was neighbors helping neighbors and that's what helped make Tuscaloosa is what it is today."
At exactly 5:13 p.m, the moment the tornado rolled through west Alabama 10 years ago, a moment of silence was held at each park to remember the devastation the city endured but also to celebrate the spirit of community that was grown in a time of great adversity.
"This is a journey that this city did not ask for," Tuscaloosa mayor Walt Maddox said at the ceremony in Mary Harmon Park. "But we didn't take it alone. We conquered it together. So, in the very beginning when we said we would rebuild this city and honor all of those that lost so much, I believe we have done that, thanks to all of you. On this day, let us remember and never forget that hope that lives inside of us."
This is the 10th and final story in a weeklong series about the 10-year anniversary of the Tuscaloosa tornado.