Cahaba Heights continues to bounce back

In the morning hours of April 27, 2011, an E-F two tornado pummeled the community of Cahaba Heights in Vestavia Hills.

The path of destruction ran from Highway 280 to Liberty Park.

Since that day two years ago, the community has rallied to rebuild. Cahaba heights is about 80 percent of the way back The mayor of Vestavia Hills and members of the community agree that if they keep the momentum going, Cahaba Heights will be better than ever.

Vestavia Hills fire chief, Jim St. John, recalls the morning of April 27th, 2011. "We realized early on that we had an enormous problem," he said.The tornado damaged 500 buildings and destroyed five houses. "We knew that we had a big problem with basic shelter for individuals, we had problems in the business community because of extensive damage to commercial properties," says St. John.

In the days after the storm, the community rallied to reclaim what the tornado had taken.

"The community has responded incredibly well, and they began doing that, that afternoon with neighbors helping neighbors," St. John recalls. "There's been a lot of work done over the past two years, there are still things to be done."

Vestavia Hills mayor Butch Zaragoza says Cahaba Heights will have reminders from the tornado, for some time mainly the trees destroyed by the storm.

"I really think we're anywhere from 80 to 85 percent back to where it was," says Zaragoza. "There's a lot of open areas now, but I think the citizens have kind of settled back in."One issue the city still faces, a handful of vacant buildings, left in disrepair after the tornado. Zaragoza says, the city has a solution. "We have since decided that we're going to go and move forward with some of the houses that haven't had any repairs to them, either get the property owners to go in and do the repairs or take the buildings down," Zaragoza explains.If you want more proof that Cahaba Heights has made a comeback, take a trip to the Heights Village shopping center.{} It has nearly 100 percent occupancy. Many of these businesses were hit on April 27th.Raymond Gotleib with Metropolitan Properties Inc. says all the tenants returned following the tornado."Not a single tenant was lost in the process, everybody recovered. What you see here is basically the same tenant mix that we had before, with one or two additions since then," says Gotleib.Even today, another new business is going up. In The Making Yarn Shop, a shop that specializes in knitting.Jeffrey Downes who just took over as city manager for Vestavia Hills, says small businesses{} are vital to getting Cahaba Heights back to 100 percent. "I think we have to take those assets, build on them, and sell those assets, so that we are all successful at the end. Cahaba Heights, having gone through a terrible storm, seems to have rebounded from that very well and is a continued economic foundation for Vestavia Hills," says Downes.