April 27, 2011… a day long to be remembered and often discussed by those of us who bore witness to the utter destruction that nature leashed upon us. We had several days warning of the impending storms. The news media had tagged the weather forecast for that day as a set up for ‘the perfect storm’. No one in our town was immune. By day’s end, if you had not suffered some form of property damage, you knew someone who had. Hundreds of businesses across the city alone had been damaged, dozens within a four block radius destroyed. A greater number of homes, many over 100 years old, heavily damaged or completely obliterated. No favoritism was shown by the twisters that day as churches were reduced to rubble. Our streets were lined with ancient hardwoods that once faithfully took on the colors of each passing season creating a picturesque scene likened to a Thomas Kinkade painting. Folks across our city have mourned the passing of so many of our beautiful trees as our landscape was forever changed by an F4 tornado.
Downtown Cullman took a direct hit that day during a second wave of tornadic activity. The destruction was like nothing any of us had ever seen before. A war zone was the only proper description for the piles of rubble, scattered debris and unrecognizable terrain in the downtown area. As soon as the storms passed, the streets were filled with people. Friends and strangers alike immediately took action checking on the health and safety of everyone that was passing. The buzz of chainsaws filled the air as the many felled trees were quickly cut away in an attempt to clear a path for emergency and rescue workers. Strangers showed up to help business owners gather scattered goods. Storm warnings continued in to the night as word began to spread of the unimaginable destruction that was being levied across our state.
The days and weeks to follow showed proof of what we had known all along; our community spirit came together like never before. Our resolve was tested and we passed with flying colors. Those who managed to escape the storms unscathed worked side by side with those who had lost everything. It has been a long journey, but two years later, our city and the people who call it home is better for having weathered the storms. Although the landscape is forever changed, the downtown is coming back stronger than ever. After the storms, the City Council established design guidelines to help preserve the historical aesthetics of downtown Cullman as well as offered incentives to business owners to encourage revitalization. The revitalization effort, which was started well in advance of this fateful day, was actually jump started by the storms.
Many businesses that were destroyed, like the Busy Bee Café, have rebuilt and reopened. Some, for various reasons, chose not to rebuild, giving way to new businesses in the downtown area. The Little Bit store, which suffered a complete loss, was one business that chose not to rebuild. Just last month, the All Steak restaurant opened it’s doors in Little Bit’s old location. The All Steak incorporated brick and other materials salvaged after the storm into it’s beautiful new building. Eastside Baptist and Christ Luthern Churches both suffered total losses on April 27th. Their rebuilding process is quickly coming to a close as both facilities are nearing completion and will be reopening their doors in the coming months. Although boarded up windows and blue tarps can still be spotted in the area, recovery efforts are around 95% complete.
As the two year anniversary draws near, still vivid memories will prompt stories that will once again be shared, stories of courage, kindness, sacrifice and perseverance. The face of our town looks different, most would say even better. As recovery efforts continue we are reminded that it is the people of Cullman, not the buildings, that make this a very unique and special place. We would not want to be anywhere else!
Written by: Lisa Jones
Edited by: Garlan Gudger, Jr.