5 dead, first responders injured in central Alabama storms
Several people were extricated from damaged homes as first responders conducted extensive search and rescue efforts
CALHOUN COUNTY, Ala. — Severe storms, including possible tornadoes, today left a path of destruction across parts of central Alabama, and left at least five people dead in Calhoun County.
Coroner Pat Brown Thursday evening confirmed the five deaths. Four adults were killed in Ohatchee, three of them in one family. A female was killed in the Wellington area. None of the victims’ identities have been released.
According to EMA officials in Calhoun County, the hardest-hit areas there, which included the deaths, happened in the Ohatchee and Wellington areas which are in the northeast corner of the county. EMA officials as of 6 p.m. said they were continuing search and rescue operations, and the number of injuries have not been confirmed.
The storm cut through Ohatchee in northern Calhoun County and left a trail in the area of Ragan Chapel Road, mowing down the church off Alabama 77, cutting down trees and pushing over tombstones in the neighboring cemetery. Debris and trees backed up traffic for several miles on the highway while crews began clearing the roadway, as heavy equipment, emergency vehicles and a fire engine from nearby Rainbow City rushed in.
One family came home long enough to survey the damage to neighboring houses before suddenly running into their vehicles to head back to shelter, believing another storm was on the way.
Multiple injuries were also reported as the powerful system snapped dozens of trees in Helena, Pelham, Hoover and the Eagle Point area.
“Significant and dangerous weather continues to impact portions of Alabama, and I urge all folks in the path of these tornadoes and storm systems to remain on high alert,” Gov. Kay Ivey said. “Tragically, we are receiving reports of loss of life. I offer my sincerest prayers to all impacted. Unfortunately, the day is not over yet. Y’all, please stay safe and vigilant!”
Pelham Fire Chief Mike Reid said 60 homes were damaged in the city, including 22 with “major damage” to the structures.
“Fortunately, we had no injuries reported to us, and we have done primary and secondary searches to both of these areas that were hit the hardest.”
Pelham Police Chief Pat Cheatwood said the city was fortunate not to have any injuries or loss of life from the tornadoes.
“When you drive through these areas, it’s very devastating,” Cheatwood said. “It broke my heart to see the amount of damage that these homes have sustained. These are well established homes that have been a part of our community for many, many years.”
The police chief cautioned city residents to be on the alert for any looting, pointing out that the areas impacted by the tornadoes are under curfew from 10 p.m. Thursday to 6 a.m. Friday except for law enforcement and first responders.
In Eagle Point, off U.S. 280, the roof of an office complex was ripped off. Highway 280 was blocked by fallen trees, many with the tops snapped off by wind. Cahaba Valley firefighters and state troopers are on the scene as dozens of homes in the Eagle Point subdivision sustained broken windows and damage from trees on roofs and cars.
As of 5:15 p.m., 280 was back open, but Alabama State Troopers said Alabama 119 is closed from Interstate 65 to U.S. 280 and Alabama 261 in Helena is closed.
Multiple people, including first responders and those trapped in homes, were taken to hospitals.
The extent of those injuries, and the exact number of people injured, is not yet known.
Cahaba Valley fire Capt. Grant Wilkerson said firefighters had to extricate people trapped in homes in Eagle Point.
“Without question, Eagle Point was the hardest hit on this side of the county,” said Major Clay Hammac of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. “We are literally going house to house to check on everyone. There are some houses gone.”
“Our priority at the moment is identifying those citizens in need of emergency medical assistance,” said Shelby County Sheriff John Samaniego. “Then we will work with our partnering agencies to provide needed resources to our residents who are displaced. This search and outreach effort will continue throughout the night and into the early morning hours.”
Residents there are using chainsaws to cut up trees in the road.
In Hoover’s Greystone Farms, roughly 30 homes were heavily damaged, and some destroyed. Hoover police and firefighters have limited access to the neighborhood expect for residents. Police Lt. Keith Czeskleba one person was transported to the hospital with minor injuries.
Rick Partridge says he and his wife were in their house on Wilderness Road in the Cahaba Valleys Estates community in Pelham. A dozen or more houses there were damaged or partially destroyed.
“It was horrible. It didn’t take 10 seconds,” Partridge said. He was upstairs when lights flickered.
“I knew it was time to get in the basement,” Partridge said.
He and his wife got into a closet in the basement as the storm blew off the roof and backwalls off the home. The partially brick house was knocked off its foundation. A large tree in their yard was uprooted and blocked the road.
He was out trying to save their clothes something. After a fire 13 years ago destroyed their Cleveland, Tenn. house Partridge learned to gather everything you can in the aftermath of a disaster.
James Dunaway of Cahaba Valley Estates in Pelham, said he was in his upper floor bedroom watching the President Joe Biden press conference when the power flickered. He said his cell phone then sounded the alarm about the tornado warning. But, he said, “I just ignored it.”
But then he heard the tornado and started down a hallway when it hit. The tornado blew off the roof and sides of his house – leaving the bedroom where he had been completely exposed. Three vehicles, which had windows smashed out, were undriveable.
The 75-year-old Vietnam War veteran suffered some scrapes and bruises, but he said he and his wife were “very lucky to be alive.”
Oak Mountain State Park is closed after the park suffered widespread tree damage in areas near Alabama Highway 119, as well as damage to the park’s campground and cable skiing areas. No injuries were immediately reported.
The park closed because of downed trees and power lines, and it’s unclear when it will re-open.
In east Alabama, in Ohatchee in Calhoun County, there are also reports of storm damage, including damage sustained by a church. Multiple injuries have been reported there as well, according to the Calhoun County Emergency Management Agency.
“We encourage everyone to avoid this impacted area to allow for first responders to continue doing their initial assessments. Remain weather aware. There are more storms expected through the evening,” said Tiffany DeBoer, Public Information Officer for Calhoun EMA.
A second round of storms hit east Birmingham and eastern Jefferson County. Birmingham Fire and Rescue Service Capt. Gail DeJarnett said about 20 to 30 homes affected by downed trees and power lines, as well as debris, in the areas of Willow Lane and Roebuck Forest Drive. No injuries have been reported.
About 35,000 people appear to be without power right now in Alabama in Hale, Bibb, Shelby, Jefferson, St. Clair and Calhoun counties, according to Alabama Power.
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