SELMA, Ala. (AP) — In a Selma neighborhood — a few blocks from the starting point of the 1965 voting rights marches — the path of a January tornado remains clear.
Homes sit collapsed or missing walls and roofs. Some building are marked with spray painted instructions to “tear down.” Debris sits piled in front yards.
“It’s going to be years to put Selma back together,” said Clifton Tate as he sat outside his damaged home on Saint Ann Street.
A month after a tornado ravaged Selma, a city etched in the history of the civil rights movement, residents and city officials said they are bracing for a long recovery. But with some also expressed optimism about what the future, and the influx of recovery resources, could hold.
“Every corner of Selma was affected. The result is that our city and county is in devastation,” U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, a native of Selma, said Tuesday in a briefing about the recovery. “But as it’s been said, we see this not just as a loss. We see this as an opportunity, an opportunity to work together and to reimagine what Selma can be.”
The Jan. 12 EF-2 tornado destroyed or damaged thousands of properties in the county, including homes, businesses, churches and other structures, Sewell said. An estimated 250 homes were destroyed and another 350 were severely damaged, Dallas County Emergency Management Agency Director Toya Stiles said.
The recovery is complicated in the city of 17,500 where nearly one in three people live in poverty.
President Joe Biden last week announced the federal government would provide additional money to local governments and nonprofits for debris removal and emergency response.
Selma City Council President Billy Young said they want to make sure “Selma gets what Selma needs,” but he also urged residents to be patient.
“We ask citizens, be patient and be diligent as we repair Selma. It is not going to be repaired in one day. This is a long-term event,” Young said.
Politicians and tourists are expected to descend upon the civil rights crucible next month for Selma’s annual commemoration marking the anniversary of Bloody Sunday. That is the day when white state troopers attacked Black voting rights marchers attempting to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge on March 7, 1965. The images of the violence shocked the nation and helped galvanize support for passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Sewell said she has urged members of Congress, as well as Biden, to come to Selma.
“What I asked him was to come to Selma, to see first-hand and to help Selma,” Sewell said.