Rob Gurganus stands in what is left of his Cordova home in late April of 2011.

‘This is what has gotten us through this’

My report from Cordova three days after the storms hit

As a devastating tornado approached Walker County Wednesday afternoon, Rob Gurganus and his family left their white Antebellum home overlooking downtown Cordova and crossed the street to hunker down with other residents at the Long Memorial United Methodist Church. Gurganus said he closed the doors to the church minutes before the super cell destroyed much of the town.

Gurganus, a teacher at Cordova Elementary School and minister at Dovertown Church of Christ, struggled to describe what he saw when he reopened the doors.

“If you’ve ever seen on TV or in cartoons especially when they close the door and they open it to another world,” he said. “To see that kind of before and after in a second’s worth of time … I don’t know if this town has ever gone through this much.”

Dozens of tornadoes ripped through Alabama Wednesday killing more than 200 people, 14 died in Walker County including four in Cordova.

Early Wednesday morning, straight-line winds damaged much of the historic store fronts in Cordova’s main street. That afternoon, a tornado swiped through the town creating a path of rubble from Cordova’s old ball field beyond the Piggly Wiggly.

A hilltop at the town was left barren, only a handful of trees stripped of their branches and any leaves stood. Below the hill, a drainage ditch beside the Piggly Wiggly held tons of debris — hot water heaters, busted stereo speakers and plywood turned into splinters.

Long Memorial United Methodist Church in Cordova in late April, 2011.

Several crews of first responders from across the county filled the parking lots in the town.

“The support down here has been overwhelming,” said Barney firefighter Justin Hyche as he handed out brown bags of food and bottled water to volunteers and victims. A group of civilians were also grilling steaks and ribs in the Piggly Wiggly parking lot.

Hyche and another firefighter with the Thach Volunteer Fire Department said they had been helping in Cordova for three days.

“Everybody has been here pretty much non-stop,” Hyche said.

In between handing out the brown bags, he signed up another firefighter from McCollum for volunteer work.

At Gurganus’ home, which he said was built sometime between 1860 and 1885, most of the roof was peeled away. Several of the upstairs bedrooms’ ceilings were replaced by clear, blue skies. Outside the home, sections of tin roof were wrapped around the branches of the property’s oak trees.

While walking to his backyard and looking over the damage, Gurganus said, “My family is safe, that’s all that matters.”

While he was inspecting the damage to his home’s chimney, a friend of Gurganus walks up, gives him a hug and tells him she is so sorry about his home but so thankful he and his family are alive.

“This is what has gotten us through this,” Gurganus said before he embraced the friend.

This originally appeared in the Daily Mountain Eagle.

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