Maplesville residents mark two years since infamous tornado

Published 6:01 pm Thursday, January 23, 2014

JoAnn and Gene Sims of Maplesville were among the town's many residents that had to repair their home after an EF-2 tornado damaged it two years ago.

JoAnn and Gene Sims of Maplesville were among the town’s many residents that had to repair their home after an EF-2 tornado damaged it two years ago.

Life changed drastically for many Maplesville residents the morning of Jan. 23, 2012.

Before sunrise, an EF-2 tornado that touched down in Perry County moved into Chilton County and barreled down U.S. Highway 82 in Maplesville, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake.

Although no one perished in the tornado, more than a dozen homes sustained extensive damage.

Some residents were forced to move in with family or friends as they rebuilt, and some lost nearly all of their belongings, even pets.

On Thursday, the two-year anniversary of the storm, residents reflected on the events of that fateful morning and how they coped with the physical and emotional damage they experienced.

Rita and Tommy Little were hunkered down in their dining room with their son as the tornado rumbled through their area and tore the roof off their home at about 5 a.m.

In a matter of minutes, they had gone from sleeping soundly in their beds to sitting in heaps of dirt and debris littering their hardwood floors, which were buckling from rainwater pouring in where the roof had been.

“It just seems like it wasn’t very long ago,” Rita Little said. “It’s still very fresh. You move on, you move past, but nothing is ever the same.”

The couple spent the next six months building a new home on the same lot as their former home. A safe room was the first room they completed.

Aside from the terrifying moments they spent huddled together on the floor as the tornado moved over their house, the Littles remember most vividly the outpouring of help and support they received later that day and in the weeks that followed.

“That was the thing that meant so much, because at that time, you’re in a state of shock,” Rita said. “It was wonderful to see faces of people I knew that came.”

Other residents hit hard by the tornado were JoAnn and Gene Sims and her son, former Chilton County Commissioner Tim Mims.

JoAnn and Gene awoke Jan. 23 to their daughter calling to tell them she was coming over and they all needed to take cover in their basement while the storm passed.

“It didn’t last long, but it was a lot of noise,” JoAnn said. “It was pretty scary because the whole house could have fallen in on us. Thank God it didn’t take our lives.”

Sims said Mims’ home was destroyed, and he had to rebuild.

The Sims’ home was damaged, but they were able to gut the inside of the house, repair the roof and fence and move back in about three months later.

“I was just so glad to get back in my house,” JoAnn said. “Alfa was very good to us, and the Lord.”

Widespread cleanup efforts around town began immediately after the tornado, particularly to remove downed power lines and trees blocking roads and driveways.

“I have never seen so many neighbors that day that just showed up,” state Rep. Kurt Wallace said. “People stopped by and brought their trucks and chainsaws.”

Wallace said several of his relatives’ homes were damaged, and during the cleanup process, he witnessed strangers donate their time and equipment to cutting trees and clearing debris from yards, even months after the tornado hit.

“I was amazed and deeply touched by the people that showed up from all around the community and outside the community,” Wallace said. “That meant a whole lot to me. Kindness never deserts us in a small community.”

The Maplesville High School football team contributed to cleanup efforts, and local restaurants distributed food to people.

American Red Cross volunteers set up tents and passed out blankets, water, coffee and donuts to residents each day for a while.

Two years later, the physical evidence of the storm is minimal, perhaps unnoticeable to people from out-of-town.

For residents, however, the memories of the storm and generosity of neighbors and strangers alike afterward are forever etched in their minds.

“You don’t realize until you have a disaster like that how much people help you,” Town Clerk Sheila Haigler said. “There were just so many phone calls. I will never forget that day.

“It was just amazing to see how people wanted to help you. The first thing I think about is how people reached out to us, and we try to do the same thing.”