By Gary Lloyd
Neighbors in the Pilgrim’s Rest neighborhood in Trussville used to wave to one another from their driveways and porches, say hello while their children trick-or-treated.
Most neighbors knew each other, but they didn’t “really know” them, said Sherri Blank, who lives on Jonathan’s Way. Blank had thought of organizing a block party well before the Jan. 23, 2012, EF-3 tornado ripped through the community, but it never happened. At least before today.
About 50 to 60 people gathered today for a block party, a remembrance of last year’s devastation and an appreciation of being here today. There were no fatalities in the neighborhood, which lost 17 homes completely to the tornado and affected 82. The lone fatality in the immediate area happened in Clay’s Steeplechase neighborhood, where 16-year-old Christina Heichelbech, a bright student who volunteered at the Clay-Chalkville Animal Clinic, died.
“The day this happened was a tragic day,” Jefferson County Commissioner Joe Knight said today from the driveway of a rebuilt Pilgrim’s Rest home
Blank said Pilgrim’s Rest residents now have common ground. They heard the same deafening noises during the tornado, saw the same sights, said the same prayers.
“They went through it just like the rest of us,” she said.
Knight, the county commission’s liaison to the Alabama Emergency Management Agency, was out at 4:30 a.m. the day of the tornado, directing fire trucks near Center Point Parkway.
“A year ago a tragedy, today a celebration and the reuniting of a neighborhood,” he said. “I think it’s a wonderful thing.”
Trussville Fire & Rescue Chief Russell Ledbetter said the neighborhood looks “much better” a year later. Most of the debris is cleaned up, people are rebuilding and repairing homes, and residents have moved back in.
“It’s just a different place,” Ledbetter said, adding that he was “absolutely amazed” that there were no fatalities in the neighborhood.
Blank said neighbors shared gratefulness they all feel in surviving the tornado.
“We’re all still here,” she said.
A year ago, the scene was “total devastation,” Ledbetter said. Today, after a couple days of snow and ice, the sun was shining.
“It’s a great day. It’s Alabama, a beautiful day, sunshine, snow on the roofs,” Knight said. “Where else in the world could you have such a wonderful little coming together of events?”
Contact Gary Lloyd at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @GaryALloyd.