Pastor Chris Burns says, “Phil Campbell will never be the same.” A neighbor, Carolyn Parker, thinks “it’s changed forever.” City councilman Eddie Barton told us “a lot of people said they weren’t going to rebuild but now, they’re coming back.” Parker adds, “It's a good community. I think it is. I love it here.”
Those words come from a pastor, a politician, and a proud citizen. They’re all storm survivors who share a common goal, remembering and rebuilding to make Phil Campbell a better place to call home.
The past year has been rocky for some who live in the little northwest Alabama city. But Carolyn and Jay Parker never thought twice about rebuilding after their home was knocked off its foundation and destroyed by an EF-5 tornado on April 27th, 2011. This is where they’ve lived for 37 years. It’s where they raised their three children.
“There have been a lot of them that's not moving back but I said if there's ever another one that comes through here, I'm gone," said Carolyn Parker. "Then I'll know God's telling me to move on.”
Several days after the storm, the Parkers' home was deemed unlivable. It was bulldozed. They started over from the ground up. The help rebuilding didn’t come from the government, it came from their brothers and sisters in Christ.
“All things come from God, so we didn't need their help. God sent it,” said Parker.
He sent the Mennonites, Church of Christ, United Methodist, Freewill and Missionary Baptist and the Church of God. Not only did their members help build the Parkers' home, they helped furnish it as well.
Parker doesn’t mind telling you, “Anybody asks me who built my house, I say God did.”
The Parkers were able to move into their new home last December. Looking at her home, Carolyn remarked, “Out of every disaster comes a blessing. It's according to how you look at it. This is my blessing.”
Just down the road, Chris Burns pastors the Phil Campbell Church of God. He is another storm survivor.
“You've got to find your new normalcy, your new picture of what Phil Campbell is,” said Burns.
Burns continues on a journey he and his wife Nicole and their two children never thought they’d make. They lost their home and church building on April 27th.
But the first Sunday after the storm, close to 150 people from various denominations met on the concrete slab where the church once stood to hear Pastor Chris preach a message of hope.
One year later, he says “The hope was already there. We just had to follow it.” They followed that hope by buying three acres and a tornado-damaged building down the road. They’ve grown from 2,500 to 10,000 square feet.
“God has just stretched us and said I really want you to take what I've given to you and really use it," said Burns. "And that's our goal.”
The church now has a student center where kids can have a safe place to hang out during the week. Their Hope Center warehouse will soon be ready for food distribution and disaster relief. Burns gives the credit to his heavenly father, saying, “God's just totally amazing. And what He's blessed us with is, well, it's nothing short of 'wow'.”
With each passing day, you can see signs of Phil Campbell coming back. The people who live here will rebuild and remember. A granite monument with the names of those who died in the storm will soon sit on a piece of city park property on the main road between the Chat ‘n Chew restaurant and what is now perhaps the town’s most recognizable landmark, the water tower that still stands proclaiming 'This is the Home of the Phil Campbell Bobcats'. City councilman Eddie Barton says they to dedicate the memorial to the people they lost. He says a lot of them were their close friends.
Like a tattered American flag that still waves in the breeze high on a utility pole in downtown Phil Campbell, the people here are worn but proud.
“People were just so down and now everything is coming together, they've picked their spirits back up,” Barton said.
Pastor Burns added, “One of the things we want to do as a church is love this town.”
But perhaps Carolyn Parker summed it up best when she said, “There's a lot of love that came out of this tornado.”