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With the MLK holiday ahead, Selma is still building back from last year's tornado

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

A deadly tornado touched down in central Alabama one year ago today. It left extensive damage in the city of Selma, site of the 1965 Bloody Sunday march for voting rights. As the community prepares to mark the MLK holiday this weekend, rebuilding is still an issue. Troy Public Radio's Kyle Gassiott reports.

KYLE GASSIOTT, BYLINE: Pastor David Nichols leads me to a flat concrete slab where Crosspoint Christian Church's daycare once stood. In the building a year ago were 70 children and 12 staff huddled in a bathroom. They all walked away without injury.

DAVID NICHOLS: It was like God almost had put his hand down right in front of those bathrooms and said, no more. It stops here.

GASSIOTT: Nichols' wife, Brina, is the preschool administrator. She was in another building and ran toward the daycare when the storm hit.

BRINA NICHOLS: Before we could get to the back of the building, the roof was coming off, and the back building collapsed. It happened so fast - within a minute.

GASSIOTT: Despite the devastation in Selma, there were no deaths reported. Further north in Autauga County, the tornado killed seven. A couple months later, during the annual event marking the anniversary of Bloody Sunday, President Biden visited and pledged federal support.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: To date, we provided $8 million in recovery, and we're just getting started in the rebuilding effort. And we're here. We'll be here as long as it takes.

GASSIOTT: Officials say, to date, federal aid stands at 10 million.

LOUIS ADKINS: You know, they're going to rebuild it back...

GASSIOTT: Louis Adkins gives me a tour of an old candy factory. It was heavily damaged by the tornado. It's still just a noisy, metal skeleton, but he has plans to build a place where young people could come to play laser tag and stay off the street. During the storm, Adkins thought his investment had blown away, but he was able to get a small business loan.

ADKINS: I know I didn't have the resources to get done what I needed done, but with the tornado, the SBA stepped in. They provided me an abundance of resources.

GASSIOTT: Adkins says progress at his laser tag hall and in Selma overall is happening, just not overnight. The community had struggled already before the tornado. Almost a third of Selma's population lives in poverty. Billy Young is the president of the Selma City Council. He says the storm cut a path directly through the city, hitting many of Selma's poorest neighborhoods.

BILLY YOUNG: When the tornado hit, people started coming. They saw areas they thought might have been hit by a tornado, but they were actually areas that were not hit by. They were dilapidated - years of neglect.

GASSIOTT: The tornado also did not destroy the town's famed Edmund Pettus Bridge, nor Selma's historic Black churches. And this weekend, the community is holding several events in honor of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, including the unveiling of a healing mosaic dedicated to those affected by the tornado. For NPR News, I'm Kyle Gassiott in Selma, Ala.

(SOUNDBITE OF TY-NITTY SONG, "CLOSER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Kyle Gassiott