At least 3 people in Alabama have died and more than 100,000 Alabama Power customers were without electricity after strong storms raked across the state Monday night. As many as 18 tornadoes may have touched down. But as residents dig out there’s a second line of storms on the way.
Wade Nichols’ “digging out” is just getting started. A tornado struck the Timberline West Apartments in Bessemer where he’s the operations manager. He walks up a soggy, grassy hill strewn with limbs, pine cones and the occasional shingle.
“I was out here last night and we couldn’t get back in this area here cause all the power lines were still live,” Nichols said. “So this is the first chance actually seeing this. It’s crazy. It’s depressing.”
Planks of wood litter the parking lot while a fallen tree engulfs a couple of cars. Windows and roofs are blown away and confetti of insulation coats everything.
As Nichols walks around, he greets residents, offers safety advice, and is continually interrupted by his phone.
Nichols’ big priority right now is finding shelter nearby for residents who need it because local officials won’ let them stay here. A police office is already stretching yellow tape across the entrance to one building.
That evacuation order doesn’t sit well with Tammy Young.
“My windows are bursted out in my bedroom and stuff so that’s why I’m not wanting to leave,” said Young. “It’s too easy to access, so I’m gonna kind of stay around here.”
Young is thankful she made it through by riding out the storm in the bathtub of her apartment with her dog. She stands on her front porch and smokes a cigarette.
“I don’t know what we’re gonna do now. One day at a time.”
For all the confusion and with relief, the apartment complex got off comparatively easy. The manager says he hasn’t heard of any injuries an many buildings are still standing. That’s not the case everywhere.
A twister destroyed a fire station in the town of Kimberly. Two people died when a tornado struck a mobile home park in Limestone County. In Tuscaloosa, a University of Alabama swimmer died when a retaining wall collapsed on him. And the storms brought as much as 4 inches of rain prompting localized flooding.
At the Shelter
The Bessemer Civic Center is now a Red Cross Shelter. Just past the entryway is a table of bottled water, snacks and fruit. A few people walk in and out through the automatic sliding doors, usually heading outside to talk on the phone.
Mike Hancock, assistant shelter manager, says there’s been a steady stream of people so far and they expect things get busier — especially with more severe weather on the way.
“So we will probably be pretty close to capacity if we don’t have to open another shelter,” said Hancock.
With Alabama experiencing this one-two punch of severe weather, it’s hard not think about the massive tornado outbreak of April 27, 2011. The three-year anniversary was this past weekend. Hancock says that experience has made Alabamians more aware and better prepared for severe weather. And for him, those tornadoes are why he’s at this shelter.
“I took a week off of work and used my vacation days and just went to work and did what I could,” Hancock said.
The 2011 tornadoes sparked his interest in emergency response. Hancock became a volunteer firefighter. He took disaster response classes and volunteered with the Red Cross. Those are all valuable skills as Alabama contends with its latest round of severe weather.
~ Andrew Yeager, April 29, 2014