A 104-degree fever kept Eva Fortenberry from driving from her home in Winfield to Hackleburg after an EF5 tornado destroyed 75 percent of the city on April 27, 2011.
Fortenberry, who describes herself as “a volunteer at heart,” made the trip as soon as her 10-day cycle of antibiotics was completed.
“I actually poked my husband in church during praise and worship and said, ‘I’m headed to Hackleburg after church,’” she said.
After the couple brought a beverage cart to Hackleburg, they were recruited to serve snacks to local students for the last three weeks of school.
Classes were held in two area churches; the city’s schools were among the many structures wiped out by the storm.
Fortenberry added that it is no small miracle that a power outage had resulted in classes being called off that day.
“Had they been in school, we would have probably lost at least half of the students because all of the safe places had glass or part of the ceiling fall in,” she said.
In July 2011, Fortenberry was hired as the first emergency phase case worker in Marion and Franklin counties through the Salvation Army.
That December, she began her service as an AmeriCorps VISTA. Fortenberry is one of the VISTAs working on disaster recovery in north Alabama through the Walker Area Community Foundation.
Fortenberry’s main responsibility is to coordinate the flow of volunteers and materials to construction sites as well as clients.
In the past two years, Fortenberry has seen Hackleburg and Phil Campbell gradually recover from the great losses suffered on April 27.
Twenty-one of 22 businesses were destroyed in Hackleburg that day. Several have since reopened, and the largest among them, the Wrangler plant, has not only rebuilt but has expanded its operation.
Ground has been broken for new schools, and dozens of new homes have gone up in Marion and Franklin counties.
However, when Fortenberry thinks of progress, her thoughts turn first to people — students comforting each other on the first day back to school, homeowners who lost everything expressing appreciation for having a roof over their head again, volunteers coming from across the United States to help strangers.
When new groups come in, Fortenberry always pulls out pictures of the destruction to give them some perspective.
“I carry them to the job site and say, ‘This is what it is, and now I’m going to show you how far it’s come, and you’re going to be a part of it,’” Fortenberry said.