Gov. Robert Bentley returned to the central Alabama town of Eclectic a year after a deadly tornado hit it and found people relying on themselves and the generosity of others to rebuild.
The Eclectic visit came on the second day of a tornado recovery tour the governor started Monday in Jefferson County and wraps up Friday evening in Tuscaloosa. The tour coincides with the first anniversary of 62 tornadoes hitting Alabama on April 27, taking 253 lives.
Bentley said at each stop he has seen people turn difficult times into a spirit of freshness and renewal rather than despair.
“It really brought out the best in people. I’m so proud of Alabama,” he said.
At Myers Country Acres mobile home park, Bentley walked through the area where four people died last April 27. Owner Billy Myers showed Bentley where he had replaced six of the 10 trailers that were demolished and had nearly finished a large tornado shelter. Myers said he decided to build it himself after deciding there was too much red tape and cost involved in seeking federal assistance.
He used a steel cargo container usually used on railroads and piled dirt nearly to the top along three sides.
“This is a great idea. Every trailer park should have a shelter,” the governor told Myers.
Four miles away, at Mt. Gilead Primitive Baptist Church, Bentley toured the new sanctuary that was built on the foundation of the old church that was demolished by the tornado. The new building was constructed with the help of volunteers and donations from a variety of denominations and businesses from Alabama and Mississippi. Its pulpit is made from pine flooring from the old church.
“We brought this back and don’t owe a dime. Without the help of so many, it wouldn’t be here,” deacon Henderson “Billy” Bass said.
Bentley was making his first trip back to the area since touring it a few days after the tornadoes. Bentley said he wanted to check on the people he met a year ago to see how they were doing.
Bentley said the tornado-damaged areas of Eclectic are beginning to look normal again, except for the absence of shade trees knocked down by the tornado. “I am very impressed with the amount of cleaning I’ve seen,” he said.
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