He says that there were several aspects of the city's response that aided in its ability to bring relief quickly to the stricken areas. One was the city's ability to mobilize and coordinate all of the volunteer relief efforts. "It's one of those things that you don't normally think about," he says. "The Red Cross and the Salvation Army facilities had been torn up. Volunteers play a huge role in disaster response and recovery. They were looking for guidance. They have to be managed and the city was very successful."

Another was the intergovernmental coordination. "I've never seen the federal, state and local level work better together," he says. "It was truly an integrated command center."

Kizziah sat in the incident command meetings and saw how each department head was held accountable for understanding what needed to be done. The city directed resources to clear streets and ensure that buildings were structurally sound, provided shelter and thousands of meals for the suddenly homeless and hired contractors to clear the debris. The city also set up aid stations, basically one-stop shops for water, food and first aid, near the stricken neighborhoods.

"I couldn't offer more praise for the effort of the City of Tuscaloosa, the leadership of the command staff and especially Mayor Maddox," he says.

Photo of Walter Maddox with FEMA staff

Johnson, whose home was wrecked by the storm, is also Associate Vice President for Auxiliary Services at the University of Alabama. She says she was amazed by how quickly the city was able to dispatch transportation workers to the affected neighborhoods to direct traffic, maintain order and to begin the massive job of debris removal.

The whole situation seemed overwhelming, but the mayor visited the neighborhoods affected by the storm,, stopped by the aid stations, appeared in interviews on television and even used digital billboards to make sure everyone, even those without electricity, received messages.

"We couldn't see how we were going to come back; there was so much destruction. But he was able to help us see how we were going to put the city back together."

Now, a year later, most of the houses have been rebuilt and the city put in a playground in one of the empty lots, she says. "The playground has been a real positive for the neighborhood," she says. "Life is good."

Johnson's experience is now typical in the city, which reports that 81 percent of the homes that were severely damaged or destroyed have either been rebuilt or their owners have applied for permits to rebuild. The city has also undertaken a program, labeled Tuscaloosa Forward, to rebuild the infrastructure so that the city is in better condition than prior to the storm.