MONDAY RECAP: Focus turns to those displaced by storms

Published 9:13 pm Monday, January 23, 2012

Chilton County was greeted by a rude awakening Monday morning as severe weather rolled through before daybreak.

The hardest hit areas were in Maplesville as well as the Enterprise and Lomax communities.

While the storms did widespread damage, there were no serious injuries reported, according to local law enforcement officials.

Maplesville suffered the brunt of the storm, which damaged roofs and mobile homes and knocked down trees and power lines.

The damage happened around 5:30 a.m., while Chilton County was under a tornado warning.

Some of the worst damage in Maplesville happened near the intersection of U.S. 82 and Chilton County 10. The apparent tornado tracked along Highway 10 and then up Alabama 139, where it blew out several downtown storefront windows and damaged roofs.

The storms continued along Alabama 139 toward Maplesville High School, which was not damaged.

Courtney Smith rode out the storm in a basement bathtub in her family’s home along U.S. 82.

“The wind started getting bad and the house started shaking,” said Smith, who at first thought the noise was thunder. “(But) it kept getting louder and louder. It sounded like it was pulling the roof off the house.”

Smith’s house sustained roof and garage damage, and a poolroom outside was destroyed.

She said she was shaken by the storms, but that things could have been much worse.

“I think a lot of us are really blessed,” Smith said.

About 10 homes were damaged near Enterprise, at the intersection of Enterprise Road, or County Road 49, and County Road 24 just outside Verbena.

Elzie and Gertie Sanders had only been in their home for about a week. Their insurance company was paying for them to rent the house because their home just down the road had burned on New Year’s Day because of an electrical wiring malfunction.

“Everything we’ve had for 45 years…we lost everything,” Gertie Sanders said. “We had really just started moving in here.”

The couple will be on the move again after an apparent tornado moved the house they were living in off its foundation. Walls split, and the roof caved in several areas.

But the couple was uninjured. When warnings were first issued, they took cover in the basement of Pleasant Valley Baptist Church.

They thought the danger had passed, left the church and stopped by their son’s home nearby. That’s when he checked the weather and suggested they all go back to the shelter.

“We could feel it when we were trying to get back to the church,” Elzie Sanders said.

Just up the hill from the Sanders, Kim Craig could hear the tornado coming. She grabbed her 6-year-old daughter, Morgan, out of bed and took cover just before the wind blew out the window in Morgan’s bedroom, spraying glass inside the home.

Craig’s husband, Andre, had left for work when the storm hit but returned shortly thereafter to find his home had sustained minor damage and that a shed in the backyard had been flipped.

Morgan’s 7th birthday is Tuesday.

“She won’t forget this birthday,” Andre Craig said.

Sheriff Kevin Davis flew over both areas Monday afternoon in an Alabama State Trooper helicopter. He said the damage “bounced” around rather than being in a straight line.

Davis said the sheriff’s office is still working to gather how many people were displaced from their homes. There was talk of opening a shelter at Maplesville Baptist Church, but people ultimately didn’t need it, Davis said.

Instead, families and friends are looking out for their own, the sheriff said.

“We’re glad that everyone has a place to go and stay tonight,” Davis said.

Clanton reported some moderate damage along Old Henry Road, County Road 81 and at the Chilton County Industrial Park in Lomax.

Most of the damage consisted of downed trees and power lines and trees on homes, Police Chief Brian Stilwell said.

Clanton Police and the Clanton Fire Department did help rescue four people trapped in a home and two stuck in a car. No injuries were reported in either incident. Closer to the downtown area, some damage — mostly downed trees — was reported along Yellowleaf Road, Friendship Road and Pineview Road.

Overnight Clanton officers stayed on the job throughout the morning, and off-duty officers were called to help here and in Maplesville.

“Our thoughts are with all those who had damage this morning, but we dodged a bullet in Clanton and are very thankful we have no reported injuries as a result of this storm,” Stilwell said.

Jemison and Thorsby reported no damage, power outages or blocked roads, according to authorities.

“We have no problems,” said Thorsby Mayor Dearl Hilyer. “Not aware of any damage. We were blessed.”

Stephen Dawkins and Emily Beckett contributed to the report.