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Governor Promises Help After Killer Tornado Devastates Alabama Town

2021-01-28 17:48:25

James Scott has never lived anywhere other than a two-story house on the hilly Darlene Drive north of Birmingham. Home will never be the same after a tornado broke the building, killed another teenager, and left the community devastated in the middle of the night.

As he stood amidst the devastation on Tuesday, the 19-year-old stared blankly at the rubble for a few moments, seemingly unsure what to do next.

“It's time to regroup and start clean,” he said. "It's the best I can hope for."

The terrifying nighttime tornado that raged through the Birmingham suburbs late Monday, trapping entire families in the remains of destroyed homes and injuring 30, left a trail of destruction that astonished even old residents accustomed to the violent Alabama weather.

Gov. Kay Ivey promised help while touring the area Wednesday.

"The people of Alabama are praying for you this morning. And we are here as a token of our commitment to your recovery," Ivey said at a press conference where she expressed condolences to the people of Fultondale and Center Point, and to the family of the 14- year-old Elliott Hernandez, who was killed. "Homes and businesses can be rebuilt, but losing a young soul to a storm like this is heartbreaking."

Hernandez, a ninth-grader, was killed and several family members were seriously injured when their home collapsed, trapping them in the basement, Fultondale Police Chief, D.P. Smith said.

"They did what they had to do," said Smith.

Tim Herring, who survived the twister by crawling into a bathtub with his wife Patti Herring when the wind tore off their house's roof and shattered walls, had followed the weather forecast throughout the day and hadn't expected the worst until it happened.

"I've lived here for 64 years. I wasn't too worried," he said.

"I've been helping people after tornadoes," he added. "It's us this time."

Across the road, Jason Williams struggled to explain how he, his wife Renee, and their two daughters got out alive after their house collapsed and locked them in the basement where they had taken refuge.

& # 39; God had his mighty hand on us. That's all I can say. God protected us last night, ”said Williams, who had a cut on his forehead and bruises on his legs, but was otherwise fine.

Many others narrowly escaped with their lives. At least 30 people were injured when the tornado cleared a 10-mile path through Birmingham's northern suburbs, an area badly damaged by a much larger tornado a decade ago.

People searched for hours in neighborhoods where it was difficult to say where houses had stood. Every visible structure was damaged or destroyed throughout the devastated landscape. Chunks of children's toys and clothing were scattered across the tree-strewn grounds. Fallen utility lines crossed roads.

Fultondale is about 10 miles north of Birmingham and is home to about 9,000 people. It is mainly middle class with a mix of new subdivisions and older housing.

The National Weather Service said the twister was an EF-3 with a wind speed of 150 mph that was capable of seriously damaging well-built buildings.

Government data shows that Alabama ranks fourth among states in terms of tornadoes since 2011 with 765, behind Texas with 1,193; Mississippi, 908; and Kansas, which had 868. Last year, Alabama had 78 tornadoes, which was more than Kansas and Oklahoma combined.

The twister Monday wasn't the first twister for Fultondale, which also caught the tail end of an EF-4 tornado that ripped across Alabama from Tuscaloosa to northern Jefferson County on April 27, 2011, killing 65 people and injuring 1,500. hit along a path more than 130 kilometers long, according to the weather service.

Haring was ready to go to bed when a warning siren went off and a TV forecaster said the storm was heading for their home. He said he put on pants and was looking for his wife's two cats when they realized they were out of time.

"We ran through the bathroom, got a bath and covered ourselves with some towels and then it was all over in about two minutes," Herring said.

The remains of homes in Fultondale, Ala., On Tuesday, January 26, 2021, after they were destroyed by a tornado. (AP Photo / Jay Reeves)

The couple was then covered with planks and pieces of walls, but neither was seriously injured. "We got out and my wife said," We don't have a roof. "I walked into the hall and said," We don't have walls either. "I said," We're lucky to be alive, Patti, & # 39; & # 39; said Tim Herring.

Sobbing, Patti Herring was startled as she searched through the rubble in search of a missing cat and her late mother's treasured belongings.

At what was left of Williams's house nearby, he and some helpers celebrated a small victory amid the devastation: They saved the family dog ​​Smokey from where he was trapped by falling debris. The dog spent hours near what was left of the basement room where the four-headed family took refuge without saving time.

“As soon as we got in there, it hit, and it all got on top of us,” Williams said.

Rescuing the dog was no small feat for a family that had lost everything else, he said.

"I'm just so proud that Smokey is okay. One of my daughters had a pair of guinea pigs and the other had a turtle. And I can't find them. Just found part of the guinea pig cage, & # 39; # 39; he said.


Associated Press Writers Kim Chandler in Montgomery; Jeff Martin in Marietta, Georgia; Desiree Mathurin in Atlanta; and Seth Borenstein at Borenstein in Kensington, Maryland contributed to this report.

Copyright 2021 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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