Yet the process has been baffling not just for local residents but to the head of historic preservation for the state, Elizabeth Brown.
"I think FEMA needs to give their people in the field more latitude," said Brown, preservation officer for the Alabama Historical Commission. "It seems things have to keep going back up the chain."
Brown said the demolition process seems to be taking longer than usual in Cordova, but government rules don't set out a strict timetable for such decisions since needs and damage can vary so greatly from one place to another. Town leaders say FEMA has never given them a firm timetable.
Located in coal country about 35 miles northwest of Birmingham, Cordova began in the 1880s at a spot where two railroad lines converged. A textile mill operated in town for about seven decades before closing in 1962.
The mill's failure displaced 800 workers and sent Cordova into a tailspin. Most of the 19 or so buildings in the downtown block were vacant and deteriorating by the time the twisters struck last year.
Many people left town for work in metro Birmingham or nearby Jasper before the twisters, and there are even fewer jobs in Cordova now aside from schools, a bank, a pharmacy and a health clinic. The town's sole grocery store was wiped out and has yet to reopen; a convenience store near the battered downtown block has closed, too.
Cordova Fire Chief Dean Harbison, who also serves as the town's recovery coordinator, said FEMA was helpful at first.
"They've provided us some money," Harbison said. "But as far as recovery, they've slowed us down."
A long-term plan sponsored by FEMA initially recommended reclaiming downtown Cordova, but Haribson said an in-depth examination revealed major structural problems and city officials decided to demolish the entire block.