The EF-4 tornado that destroyed more than 3,041 homes and 400 businesses when it ripped through Tuscaloosa, Ala., in April changed the look and possibly the life of the city as it moves into recovery.

The high winds also damaged more than 8,800 homes and almost 1,000 businesses and other structures.

The city and county are starting to rebuild schools and public buildings after removing almost 800,000 cu yd of debris—including 2,879 stumps—replacing traffic lights and signs and restoring services.

The six-mile-long, 1.5-mile-wide path torn through the city will be a new place after the City Council passed the “Tuscaloosa Forward” plan in September. It calls for sustainable neighborhoods with durable and efficient buildings, more transportation options and coordinated public facilities, such as combined health centers and schools.

A team of University of Alabama engineers moved in before the rubble was cleared to examine wind damage to houses and businesses in an effort to improve design methods in tornado-prone areas.

Reconstruction is moving slowly, and most contractors expect major rebuilding to get rolling in 2012. The city issued 4,078 permits through August for work ranging from demolition and new construction to signage and electrical service reconnection.

 “We don’t anticipate any of that ground-up new work to start until after the first of the year,” Jimmy Latham, president of WAR Construction Inc. in Tuscaloosa and president of the Alabama Associated General Contractors.

“They have to develop a new set of plans to comply with current codes,” he said.

Some of the homes lost were public housing. The city is seeking replacement funding from the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development, said Meredith Lynch, public relations coordinator with the city’s Incident Command.

“As with any disaster, it will take time to rebuild affordable housing … between three to five years,” she said.

Building materials shortages and price spikes, common after most disasters, haven’t happened here.

Jay Reed, president of Associated Builders and Contractors of Alabama, said there have been no shortages or price increases, but noted that Tuscaloosa is still not yet in “full rebuilding mode.”

Henry T. Hagood Jr., chief executive of Alabama Associated General Contractors, attributed some of price stability to the fact that “the construction economy has been so down, it is easy to gear up and manufacture” supplies.

Tuscaloosa faces $1.25 million in infrastructure repairs, plus replacing police and fire stations and the emergency operations center, said Joe Robinson, city engineer.

The wastewater collection system had only minimal damage and the stormwater system was debris-clogged, he said.

Damage to public buildings in surrounding Tuscaloosa County is being repaired in-house and by bid work, such as replacing a destroyed precast-bridge building, according to W. Hardy McCollum, county probate judge and county commission chairman.

The county also had about $2 million in road, slope and drainage repair.

He expects all the storm-related repair and rebuilding will be finished by year's end.

Despite their proximity to the tornado path, the University of Alabama’s main campus and the DCH Regional Medical Center only had minor damage, such as cracked windows in the hospital.

Damage to 87 miles of state and federal roads in the county involved debris, signs and poles but not pavement, said Alabama Dept. of Transportation spokesman Tony Harris.

However, Hurricane Creek Railroad Bridge in Tuscaloosa County lost 600 ft of rail and deck ties, three steel towers and six girder spans. The 564-ft-long bridge is 120 ft above the streambed.

Scott Bridge Co. of Opelika, Ala., is the contractor for repairs that will be completed by the end of November, said Tony Cox, vice president of engineering for operator Watco Companies Inc. of Pittsburg, Kan.