Tuscaloosa’s Alberta community continues to rebuild years after tornado nearly wiped it off the map

Special Reports

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (WIAT) — Over the last decade, Tuscaloosa’s Alberta community has undergone something of a rebirth.

On April 27, 2011, nearly 65% of the community was destroyed by a tornado that devastated Tuscaloosa. But now, the community is slowly coming back.

Councilor Kip Tyner, who has represented the area for years, is perhaps as well known as any Tuscaloosan whose name isn’t Nick Saban. Tyner still does a daily TV show from the Tuscaloosa Hampton Inn, where he interviews everyone from community leaders to local students. In the years since the tornado hit, Tyner has continue to champion Alberta as a place worth rebuilding. 

“Total helplessness. People were so desperate. They had missing relatives; they had no homes,” Tyner said as he thinks back on that day. 

The year before the storm, Tyner had been undergoing treatment for cancer. Now in remission, Tyner has a new energy and vision to see his district flourish. He fought to build the Alberta School of Performing Arts, which now stands just behind the former site of Alberta Elementary School. Next door, construction is underway for the North American headquarters for SWJ Technology, a German company that once seemed like a longshot for the community to get. 

“My exact words [to the company] were ‘I love long shots and I’m gonna order the shovels today because you will break ground right here,'” Tyner recalled. “They’ve got the shovel in there and they tell that story. Because I meant it.” 

Down the street on Juanita Drive, nearly every lot was wiped out by the storm. This year, the final available lot will have a brand new home built by Habitat for Humanity. 

“I was home, alone, sitting. Eating. I heard my neighbors screaming, and I looked out the front door, seeing the sky getting black,” recalled Shalare Powell, who now owns a rebuilt home on Juanita Drive. 

Powell knew what it was like to lose a home in a devastating storm. Back in 2005, she lost her home during Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana, causing her to move to Tuscaloosa. 

“I consider myself a Katrina survivor because a lot of people lost their lives and God spared me. I look at it as a tragic moment, but still a blessing,” she said. 

Tyner is optimistic about his district’s future, insisting the growth isn’t over yet. 

“Just when people think I was dead and wasn’t coming back, people thought Alberta was dead and wasn’t coming back. And that’ll never happen as long as I’m breathing,” he said. 

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