After two rounds of requests and a conference call, FEMA finally sent its own photographer to document what's left of the city on Oct. 29, he said.
"They're saying they should be finished with the review by Jan. 4," said Harbison. That means no decision will be made on whether to fund the demolition will be made for at least two more months, he said, and the two-year anniversary of the tornadoes could pass with the fractured buildings still looming over Cordova.
It's hard to come or go from the town without driving past the decimated area, and the mayor said the sight is a mental barrier to moving the city forward. Three fires have burned in the damaged area since the tornadoes — one accidental, two suspected arsons, including one in which two people were charged — and the blazes further weakened structures blasted by the twisters.
Gilbert said the rickety buildings stand in an area that could become a home for new businesses now that a new four-lane highway linking Birmingham and Memphis, Tenn., runs just a few miles from the city, but that can't happen until the old ones are demolished. The struggling city can't afford the estimated $933,000 cost of demolishing the structures, he said, so it's counting on FEMA to fill the gap.
"Our entire economy is gone, and it's like they're just doing nothing," said Gilbert.
FEMA spokesman Danon Lucas said that's not true.
"I know the city looks at it as delays, but we have been working through the process that's required," he said. "This doesn't happen often. Demolition like this isn't a regular occurrence."
No other Alabama city has had the same problem since the twisters, Brown said. While it took about a year to approve the demolition of the high school in the northwest Alabama town of Phil Campbell because of historical considerations, Cordova is in a league of its own, she said.
"I can't blame them for being frustrated with FEMA," she said.