CORDOVA, Ala. (WIAT) — It’s hard to believe it’s been 11 years since tornadoes rocked several parts of central Alabama. On this day back in 2011, 62 tornadoes tore through our state destroying communities and killing over 250 people. Several smaller communities like Cordova in Walker County have never been the same.

The streets of downtown Cordova are bare. The heart of this community has been wiped clean. And, for those passing through over the last 11 years, you may not even notice the difference, but for the people who call this small town home, it’s a drastic change from the Cordova we all know and love.

“Tornadoes do what they want to do you know, there was just no safe place that day,” Beverly Vanhorn said.

April 27, 2011 is a day many remember all too well.

“The noise is something I don’t think we’ll ever forget. It was so fast you couldn’t do anything. You couldn’t brace yourself,” Taylor Ragsdale said.

It started as a typical day during severe weather season.

“You never think it’s going to be you until it’s you,” said Drew Gilbert, Cordova’s former mayor.

The first tornado ripped through town at 5:00 a.m.

“I was at home here in Cordova when the first one hit. I got up and got ready for work and while I was leaving Cordova, I had this realization like hey that was a lot more real than I thought it was,” said Gilbert.

The city was already in clean-up mode.

“We worked all day long. Working on cutting up trees and that kind of thing and never thought anything. It was a sunny day. The power was out all day, so we just had the radio, and we were outside working right until it hit,” Ragsdale said.

Then at 5:00 p.m. tragedy struck again.

“I’m telling you; I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy,” Vanhorn said.

A second tornado came with a vengeance. What was left from the first round was now gone. An EF-4 tornado came barreling through, collapsing Beverly Vanhorn’s home where she and her step-kids, Taylor and Jackson, were taking shelter.

“Her arm was pinned underneath him; She had her arm around his neck when the tornado hit. She was telling us that he’s not breathing,” Ragsdale said.

“It had to have killed him instantly because he didn’t move. He didn’t grunt, he didn’t cry out or nothing,” Vanhorn said.

Four people died in Cordova that day. It was the last time Taylor ever saw her brother. He was just 21 years old.

“I miss him, but I know he is in a better place than us. Our mom died when we were young and Anthony and I grew on it and built on it. Jackson really didn’t and we know that he is at peace and he’s with our mother,” Ragsdale said.

“I don’t know if it was a vison, I don’t know but I saw this and I don’t know how I saw this. But Toni came down and she reached down for Jackson and Jackson reached up to her and they hugged and embraced, and it was just like a vapor they just vanished, and I knew then that as bad as things were, Jackson was ok. He was with his mama; he was where he wanted to be,” Vanhorn said.

At daylight, the community was in survival mode.

“It was eerie, strange. You had no electricity so there was no lighting to see it and you could feel it,” Gilbert said.

The clean up process took months.

“Everything was gone. Our whole childhood, everything we knew, it felt like everything was gone. We’ve lost our whole world. We had a whole community, a whole town that rallied together and helped each other and most people aren’t fortunate enough to go through that,” Ragsdale said.

That tragic day fueled Drew Gilbert’s dream to run for mayor. He was just 25 years old at the time.

“If you grew up here you could just feel the city kind of going away. Every year it was a business closing something leaving and I always wanted to be a part of whatever the upswing was,” said Gilbert.

During his eight years in office, Gilbert got roughly $8 million dollars in relief, seeds he said were planted by former mayor Jack Scott. He was able to rebuild necessities like a grocery store, police station and a new City Hall.

It’s a small brick in the ever-growing foundation of the post-storm community.

“The tough part for a city like Cordova is just we’re eaten up with poverty. Most of our population lives below the poverty line and with that comes the lack of private investments, that’s the next nut to crack and I think Mayor Pate is working in a very good direction for that but it doesn’t happen overnight. It can be decades-long processes that we are involved in now,” Gilbert said.

Despite the heartache and devastation April 27 brought, Cordova bounced back.

“Yes, it’s different now but it’s a good different also. Our town needed to move into the next generation and the next big change for it and the tornado opened that door for it,” Ragsdale said.

“Even today getting to see some of the fruits of what we did and the next administration build off of some of the things we did right, it’s rewarding and probably will reward me forever. I’ll probably feel that for the rest of my life,” Gilbert said.

Today, the city is improving every day. Each new goal reached is symbolic of the heartbeat of this community. It’s not the material things we have, it’s who we are, the people, that make Cordova stronger than ever.