Ten years later

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Tuesday marks the 10th anniversary of the April 27, 2011, tornadoes.

The Daily Mountain Eagle has produced a film that will begin streaming on the anniversary called "Winds of Change: Rebuilding From Tragedy." I've worked on it in collaboration with our new media coordinator Jeffery Winborne for several months. I've watched it from start to finish a half dozen times, and not once have I gotten through it without crying.

But I'm always smiling by the end because I think we came pretty close to what I hoped we would be able to do — recap the devastation, document the ups and downs of the recovery and celebrate the people who represent the best of Cordova.

Every year on the anniversary, I take a walk through town and have the same thought — "We're still here."

Not everyone who made it through that day is still here 10 years later, and I expect that will hit me harder this year than it has in the past. 

The community is still here, though. It looks different, but the heart's still beating.

The following is a portion of a column I wrote on May 2, 2011, called "Blue Devils Broken After the Storm." It was my first attempt at working through my grief, something I've had to do again and again since that day.

"I write these words with a broken heart. The town where I grew up, which I sometimes criticize but truly love, essentially does not exist. 

"The tornadoes that came through on Wednesday did not just damage Cordova; it ripped out its heart. Long Memorial Methodist Church, which was named after the man who founded the town and has long stood as a beautiful beacon on top of a hill overlooking downtown, is in shambles. So is the Rebel Queen, a longtime hangout for locals. 

"Also gone are the laundry mat, the doctor’s office, the Industrial Development Board. Many other buildings, including most of Main Street and the Piggly Wiggly where Zac works as produce manager, are severely damaged. 

"Cordova has lost more than property. We have lost our own. I do not know the names of all the dead, but I know there are several young people among them. We have been told that a lady who lived in a house in town is also gone. Zac knows her as one of Piggly Wiggly’s regular customers. He said that she was a nice person and although she didn’t have much money, she always gave him a quarter for taking out her groceries if she had it. 

"We have also heard that a young man who grew up on the street behind me passed away. He lost his mother several years ago to cancer. Now his father has lost him. 

"My son, thankfully, is alive and well. He celebrated his first birthday on Thursday. We couldn’t even give him a party. At least we are not planning a funeral. 

"I am glad he is not old enough to understand the chaos going on around him. I am sad that he will never see the Cordova that his dad and I know so well. We have walked by the Old Park several times. I always stop and stare. That is the field where Zac and I took our vows. I gave my hand and my heart away over that home plate that is now hidden beneath a pile of debris. 

"Looking at the destruction makes me sick. This is not my hometown. This is a war zone. I want to wake up in the real Cordova where most of the buildings are old but at least they are standing. I want those people to be returned to their families. I want the heart of the town to be beating on its own without the life support that has sustained us since the storm. 

"I am afraid that Cordova will never come back from this. There are signs of hope, though. On one of our walks, we passed a man on a golf cart. He had a generator strapped to the back and was letting people hook up to it to warm some morning coffee. I now understand how little things like a cup of coffee mean so much when the familiar is suddenly unfamiliar. 

"The only way to get through the dark days ahead is to help each other. I may not know your name. I may not have spoken to you in years. But as we stand in the middle of the rubble that was once Cordova, we are family because we are Blue Devils."

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Jennifer Cohron is the Daily Mountain Eagle's features editor and cohost of Left on Red. She can be reached at jennifer.cohron@mountaineagle.com and 205-221-2840. Find Left on Red wherever you get your podcasts.