4 years later, Phil Campbell still has a long road ahead

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A concrete slab remains in Phil Campbell, four years after an EF-5 tornado blew a church off its foundation. (Carter Watkins / WHNT)

PHIL CAMPBELL, Ala. (WHNT) – On April 27, 2011 an EF-5 tornado destroyed much of the small Franklin County town of Phil Campbell.

Four years later, the clean-up has ceased and the volunteers are long gone, leaving the town trying to recover the best they can.

In the center of town, a granite marker is etched with the names of 27 Phil Campbell residents who lost their lives that day.

An afternoon no resident will ever forget.

“It’s really sad, especially on an anniversary day like today. I’ve already been driving around and looking, and it brings back the memory of the people that used to live there. A lot of them are deceased, and a lot of them moved out-of-town and not coming back,” Police Chief Merrell Potter said.

Slabs of concrete show the footprint of where buildings and homes once stood. Some have been built back, but waist-high weeds now stand in much of the town.

But peering through as a beacon of hope, Phil Campbell High School is back open.

“We made it through,” said Potter. “It was a tough time, a hard time, but we survived and the town survived. One day it’s going to come back and hopefully be bigger and better than ever.”

Chief Potter said the outpouring of support volunteers who showed after the tornado strengthened the community. But even with the jump-start they received, there is still a long way to go.

“Everybody wanted it, just immediately, just clean up and let’s start all over and just make everything new,” said Potter. “That’s not the way it works.”

But there is hope here in this small town. It’s hope in which they plan to build on in the future.

The town of Phil Campbell decided not to hold any formal memorial services this year on the anniversary. They want to keep things low-key and continue to focus on the future ahead of them.