Friday, April 29, 2011

Monster Tornado Ravages Part of Tuscaloosa's Retail District

We all have heard the terrible, tragic news about Tuscaloosa, and this is all the more stunning for me since I have made many visits to Tuscaloosa over the years including a trip this last March to document all the malls there.  McFarland Blvd is normally an extremely congested thoroughfare, and covering what I did with the traffic was difficult.  I would have covered more, but time constraints made me stop.  Now, I wish I had covered more after the news. 

This amazing and eerie video was taken by someone sitting in the west parking lot of University Mall.  It is obvious the mall sustained some damage, but it was far worse just to the north of the mall.

The truth about Tuscaloosa is that this kind of weather was unfortunately to be expected.  The area near I-20/59 from southwest of Tuscaloosa to north of Birmingham has a very long history of violent F4 and F5 tornadoes.  In 2000, an F4 tornado hit very close to McFarland Mall, heavily damaging a then-new Winn Dixie under construction and flattening million dollar homes in a hilly subdivision nearby.  Thankfully, that tornado missed the main business district, but this one clearly did not.  The 2000 tornado was featured in a famous video captured from towercam that won Birmingham meteorologist James Spann an award that year.  Sadly, this remains one of the deadliest stretches for tornadoes in the United States, and this all came to a head on April 27, 2011.

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Here is a view along 15th St just west of McFarland.  I have heard that this scene no longer exists.  I planned to try the Taco Casa right here when I was there, but decided not to go.

Keeping track of the news, I have been trying to gather information on what retail establishments were affected.  I found this aerial, which shows the exact path.  Originally, it was reported that University Mall was destroyed, but this video as well as the linked aerial image above proves that the mall was mostly out of harms way, and definitely NOT destroyed.  However, no information on the status of the mall has been posted anywhere.  The tornado itself actually went just to the north of the mall, affecting everything from the intersection of McFarland Blvd (US 82) at 15th St to just north of Wood Square Shopping Center.  The main part of the storm, in fact, crossed the northwest corner of that intersection obliterating everything there.  I had previously reported on my Meadowbrook Mall post that Wood Square was where Wal-Mart, and originally, Kuhn's Big K was located.  That strip was completely destroyed.

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Corner of McFarland and 15th.  Everything you see from this CVS back along McFarland...gone.

Sadly, everything between 15th St and Wood Square Shopping Center was severely damaged or destroyed as well.  It is still available on Street View, but it is completely gone.  Many, many retail establishments were demolished including the CVS Pharmacy at the NE corner of 15th and McFarland.  Further west on 15th, most every single fast food restaurant on the south side of 15th was wiped out or damaged beyond repair.  This included the McDonald's, Hardee's, Smoothie King, Schlotsky's Deil and the Taco Casa.  The new lifestyle center (Midtown Village) across from the mall may have also been damaged, but it looks to have very narrowly missed it.  For now, I am including some "before" street view scenes to view what was there before the storm.  I would also like to know what is gone more specifically.

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Wood Square Shopping Center the way it was

Wood Square Shopping Center now.

In all, I am very saddened by this disaster and hope that nothing like this happens there again for many years.  Tornadoes are an unfortunate part of living in the South despite the beauty to be found in so much of it.  I am at least glad that it did not make a direct hit on popular University Mall, or the death toll may have been much higher. I also felt that since so many retail establishments were destroyed that it was important to report this angle here.


  1. Thanks for taking the time to report on this. As one who's never been to Tuscaloosa, I didn't realize what a big little town it is. This puts it much more in perspective. (I also thought I was going crazy thinking how many tornadoes start in AL, but your stats verify this.)

  2. Like I mentioned on Facebook, Taco Casa is really good fast food Mexican. The destroyed one is the one we happened to eat at when we were in town in November for the GA State/BAMA game (we are Georgia residents). University Mall opened back up not too long after the disaster, but with hours that abided by the curfew. University Mall is back to normal now. Taco Casa says they will rebuild the 15th St location (the others were all spared) and Krispy Kreme says it will rebuild too (it's not on 15th St).

  3. The Taco Casa is going to reopen soon, as they have finished repairs/rebuilding. Hardees reopened August 1 or 2. Subway reopened in late July. The mall had some damage on the Belk (old Parisian) side but it's still open and the damaged corner has been temporarily repaired.

    Also, coming down 15th St starting at Taco Bell, the following retail businesses are gone/not relocated yet:

    Mike and Ed's (formerly Horne's BBQ),H & W Drugs (classic pharmacy), Hokkaido Japanese Steak House, Schlotzky's Deli, Smoothie King,
    Check Depot, Replays, Big Lots, Chuck E Cheese, Tuesday Morning, Hobby Lobby, KFC, OK Tire, China Fun (old Alberta Krispy Kreme), Payless Optical, McFarland Krispy Kreme, many more I could list.

  4. TACO CASA IS BACK!! :D Opened just yesterday and man am I glad. I know Hobby Lobby is moving to Northport(the old Home Accents location at 69&82) but I don't think there are any definite plans for anything else. The new Tuscaloosa Forward plan seems to be making it difficult for businesses to rebuild in the same locations, since Pate really wants more housing around town(He's the biggest developer around here). Thank you for those google maps photos, I don't think I've seen many street-level before and afters and even though it's been months, that was nice.

  5. Greetings! Enjoyed reading your posts. Just wanted to let you know that Schlotzsky's on 15th Street East, Tuscaloosa, is planning to rebuild in their same location and HOPEFULLY will begin some kind of ground breaking after Thanksgiving. This is as it was reported to me, a part-time employee. Keep our community in your prayers, please.

    1. Update on Schlotzsky's Tuscaloosa: I am thrilled to report that the restaurant's construction is well underway in the same location on 15th Street East. The restaurant employees are eagerly awaiting the end of November 2012 when they can get back to serving the Tuscaloosa community Schlotzsky's fare... it's Lotz Better!

  6. I am so happy to see Tuscaloosa, my hometown, recovering. I live about 80 miles away, northeast of Birmingham. On April 27, the same tornado that destroyes T-town passed directly over my house- the only break in its 150+ mile long path. We were fortunate. After the storm passed over, i went ouside, and in my yard were prescription papers from H&W Drugs dating back to the 1980s, and cups from the destroyed Milos. Shocking and eerie doesnt describe it.