Michael Moore and his girlfriend, Janice Prince, sat on the front porch of Moore’s home of more than 12 years in Rosedale Court housing project. They watched their neighbors, other residents of the “Big U,” walk along the sidewalks, stopping by other units to check in on friends and family. They could hear children running on the playground, performing plays and singing. Before April 27, a little rain didn’t send anyone scattering home.
Prince, who had gotten her hair done earlier in the day, retreated inside the apartment so her hair wouldn’t get messed up. As Moore walked down to the corner of his building, Prince called him from inside the apartment. She had just gotten off the phone with their 12-year-old son, Shaquille, who was visiting his brother’s house across the neighborhood, telling them a tornado was headed toward Tuscaloosa in 20 minutes.
“Daylight turned to night,” Moore recalled. “I said, ‘Baby, come here! You’ve got to see this, you’ve really got to see this!’ It covered everything you could see.”
The couple ran frantically back into the apartment and closed the door, but it instantly flew back on its hinges. They took shelter in the bathroom, where Prince hid in the bathtub while Moore held the door closed as the violent wind tested his strength.
“I dropped my hands, and I just started praying, praying fast,” Moore said. “She kept calling my name, screaming my name, and I would look up, and it was almost like she was kneeled down in the tub, but it looked like she was raised up out of the tub. She kept calling, ‘Michael, Michael, help me,’ and I told her, ‘Don’t call my name, call God.’”
Moore said the noise – the sound of a train, the thrashing of wood and metal – echoed around the apartment like someone was trying to break in.
“All of a sudden, all those sounds stopped,” he said. “You could hear the wind, just breezing, blowing, like it was leaving us.”
With minor damage to his apartment, Moore stayed in Rosedale Court for more than a month after the EF4 tornado destroyed 80 units and did major damage to 16 of the 188 units in the housing project on April 27. Della Jackson, who works at the Tuscaloosa Housing Authority, said Moore stayed until they had to make him leave so workers could begin Phase I of demolition on the site in late summer 2011.
“When we had to actually move everybody out, I was actually surprised at the people who stayed,” Jackson said. “You’ve been there all of your life. They didn’t have anything, but they had each other. Now they’re scattered all over Tuscaloosa and Northport.”
Chris Hall, assistant to the executive director of the Tuscaloosa Housing Authority, said residents were hesitant to leave because they didn’t have a safety net of family and friends to call for somewhere to stay. After identifying residents and going through the normal relocation process of interviewing applicants and finding permanent places to live, some residents were given vouchers to live in surplus housing around Tuscaloosa.
Jackson said the reality of the storm didn’t seem to hit Moore until after a few months.
“Mr. Moore started to pull away,” she said. “One day, he just broke down. It just took over. The initial shock, it just hit him.”
Beyond the human tragedy of what occurred on April 27, Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox said moving Rosedale forward has not been that difficult compared to multiple other projects related to the storm.
“[We’d] been working on it prior to April 27, so all the tornado did was expedite the processes,” Maddox said. “The funding was in place, in fact, the insurance proceeds are going a long way toward reconstruction.”
Hall said Phase I, which is scheduled to be completed by May 2013, will cost $17 million and consist of 88 units, 52 of which will be low income tax credit units and 36 will be public housing. Phases II and III will add an additional 209 units, 123 specifically for the elderly and will total $32 million. Phase II has a scheduled to be completed in the spring of 2013 and Phase II in the spring of 2015.
Hall said the project, which is contracted to Hollyhand Realty, will be very similar to that of the McKenzie Court housing project that was renovated in 2010 in terms of style and amenities like central heat and air, dishwashers and more green space.
Moore now lives in backside of the Crescent East housing project in Holt. His black Mazda RX-7, with its cracked windshield, bent metal and windows covered in trash bags, sits in the front yard, an everyday reminder of April 27. In the living room, porcelain angels guard the door and the Holy Bible is on display. Church notes litter the table.
“They told us just keep to yourself, and you’ll be alright,” he said.
Although the application process for those wanting to return to Rosedale has not begun yet, Moore hopes he along with his former neighbors, are able to return.
When interviewing applicants for the McKenzie Court housing project, Hall said half of the residents hold them they wanted to return to the community, but only about 15 percent actually returned to the revitalized site.
“The kids change school zones, and they get comfortable in their new schools, they have new neighbors and new friends, and as nice as the units, are they just don’t want to go through all that hassle of changing school and moving again,” Hall said. “While their intention was to move back, a lot of them don’t.”
Moore still plans on going back. Back to the Rose.
“That storm, it took the top of the Rose,” Moore said, “it came in, and it took the top of it straight away. It left the bottom, as long as you’ve got that – the stem that’s rooted to the ground – things can grow and come back. It’ll come back.”