The bulldozers are rolling at the Wrangler Plant in Hackleburg. The site is clear, one year after it was leveled by an EF-5 tornado. The storm blew one of the biggest employers in Marion County away.
“It completely wiped everything out,” said Hackleburg Mayor Doug Gunnin.
Hundreds were injured, and 18 people died here.
“The churches right there, those homes… the whole area… everything. It was wiped out completely,” said Gunnin. “Done built — done built it back!”
Houses of faith, and houses of family, rebuilding, portable classrooms, take the place of the school house. The football field was once filled with the hometown cheers of the Hackleburg Panthers.
Now, it’s just a silent shell. The concrete bleachers are the only thing left.
A stone’s throw away from the old school, 19 acres has been purchased to rebuild.
But Mayor Gunnin says, “I don’t think our school will be ready to go back in a year’s time.”
A concentration on their field of dreams could help the Panthers play their next season at home, though. Mayor Gunnin says that’s a priority.
“Anything pertaining to sports, football and stuff like that, that would be first priority building it back and all where maybe this fall, have ballgames here,” said Gunnin.
While the Piggly Wiggly won’t rebuild… a new Dollar General is close to opening. That’s news Mayor Gunnin is excited about.
“Hackleburg got more damage percentage-wise than anybody, but we got cleaned up,” said Gunnin, “building back probably quicker than anybody that was in involved in the storm and all.”
The rebuilding is putting people back to work. Steven Pace with Tri County Construction is working on the Wrangler plant.
“We’ve been very busy here,” said Pace. “Very fortunate to have this close to home and here in our community.”
A year later…the scene has been clear and site work is underway to rebuild a new Wrangler plant. Much of the work is done by local contractors. The equipment they are using today in the rebuilding is the same equipment they used a year ago in the rescue and recovery.
For Pace, it hit home.
“Looking for my own family members and getting back into where they were at… my guys joined in and helped me and my family,” said Pace. “We lost my mother, my grandmother and my cousin and her husband.”
They died when the tornado hit Phil Campbell.
Pace’s parents were married 47 years. His father survived, but the last year has been tough.
“It’s a lot of anxiety coming up for me and my family as April 27th approaches,” said Pace. “It’s good to be here and kinda give back and be able to work and build this back, to bring some jobs back to the area… do something good out of it, you know.”