Wind, fallen trees damage property throughout east Alabama
by Star Staff
Mar 18, 2013 | 29995 views |  0 comments | 24 24 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Cooter Brown's owner Tim Johnson surveys the damage to his Jacksonville eatery after Monday storms blew through the area. (Photo by Trent Penny / The Anniston Star)
Cooter Brown's owner Tim Johnson surveys the damage to his Jacksonville eatery after Monday storms blew through the area. (Photo by Trent Penny / The Anniston Star)
A storm felled trees, swept away roofs and cut electric power across eastern Alabama on Monday afternoon.

In the storm’s immediate aftermath, dozens of trees were reported down across Calhoun County, some on homes and some blocking roads. The roof of an apartment building on the Jacksonville State University campus was blown off, windows were shattered in downtown Anniston and cars were smashed by falling trees around the county.

Tammy Bain, public information officer with Calhoun County Emergency Management Agency, said only one injury had been reported in the county: a 10-year-old who had been inside a mobile home north of Jacksonville when a tree fell on it. EMA Director Jonathan Gaddy said the boy was taken to a local hospital; he did not know the extent of the child's injuries.

Click here for more photos of damage caused by Monday's severe weather

By 5:20 Monday evening, Regional Medical Center and RMC Jacksonville had no patients with storm-related injuries, according to staff at the hospitals. Bryan McCauley, CEO of Stringfellow Memorial Hospital, said there were no patients with storm-related injuries at his emergency room either. However, he noted, the hospital did have some downed trees, though nothing that would impact Stringfellow's services.

More than 90,000 customers in Alabama Power Company’s eastern division were without power Monday afternoon, said Alyson Tucker, a spokeswoman for Alabama Power. Of those customers, 15,323 were located in Anniston, 5,138 in Jacksonville and 1,386 in Oxford. By 7:30 p.m. the number of customers in the eastern division without power was down to 87,000, according to Alabama Power.

Winds of up to 70 mph had been forecast in the warnings issued in the storm’s approach. Jessica Talley, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Calera, said that at 88 mph, Gadsden recorded the top wind speed in the state during the storm. There were no wind speed reports for Anniston available, she said.

Jacksonville State struck

Colt Kennedy, a senior at Jacksonville State University, said he was standing outside beneath an awning at Campus Inn Apartments when the wind lifted the roof off an apartment building in front of him.

“I was out here watching the hail and heard the wind come around the corner,” Kennedy said. “That roof went up 40 feet in the air before it came down.”

Angie Finley, a JSU spokeswoman, said the university was working to find housing for students living on Campus Inn’s second floor. Finley said damage had also been reported to the roof and antenna on the Houston Cole Library, the roof of the Colonial Arms Apartments and windows on the second floor of the alumni house. There were no reported injuries, she said. The library closed, but classes had not been canceled, she said.

The storm left layers of insulation and black shingles lying like a blanket over cars in a portion of the apartment building’s parking lot.

Soon after the storm passed, some students watched as crews cleared debris with chainsaws and a front-end loader in the rain. Others gathered their belongings to move to vacant housing units elsewhere on campus.

Finley said second-floor Campus Inn residents can begin filing damage claims at the university’s housing office Tuesday.

Brooke Lyon, assistant director of student development, said students on the top floor were required to evacuate the building Monday. Two students were evacuated from a student housing unit at Colonial Arms Apartments, in addition to the students that were evacuated from Campus Inn Apartments, university officials said.

Despite the damage, university officials said Monday evening that no students were known to have been injured on campus during the weather event.

Mike Stedham, the director of student media at JSU, said the campus radio station, WLJS went off the air around 5:15 p.m., but was still broadcasting online.

“The whole roof was gone”

Tammy Bain of the Calhoun County EMA said damage across the area was widespread and residents should try to stay home if possible Monday evening, and to avoid driving over down power lines.

Cooter Brown’s Rib Shack, east of JSU on Alabama 204, was also damaged during the storm.The popular barbecue restaurant’s tin roof had peeled off and lay in a grassy area nearby.

“We saw a hole in the ceiling,” said Jennifer Kittle, a restaurant employee. “They went outside to investigate and the whole roof was gone.”

The business's owner, Barbara Johnson, said the restaurant lost power and would be closed for at least two days. By sunset, crews were already working to cover the roof to prevent leaks from causing further damage, Johnson said.

In Anniston, wind knocked down more than 38 trees, according to Public Works Director Bob Dean. He said all of the Street Department’s 50-plus employees were taking care of downed trees and blocking off streets as darkness fell.

“We’re running out of barricades right now,” Dean said of the volume of problem areas in the city.

On Pine Grove Road in West Anniston, a tree crushed the front porch of a home and damaged a car parked in the yard. Deidra Booker said her new Ford Focus had a cracked windshield and dents on the front end. Booker, along with four others, was inside the home when the tree fell sometime after 4 p.m.

“It happened so fast,” she said. “The house didn’t shake or nothing.”

After fighting to open the door, blocked by the fallen porch, they were able to get out and wait at a neighbor's house, Booker said.

Across town, fallen trees plagued the Christine Avenue corridor, blocking the road at 16th Street. A fallen tree on Leighton Avenue between 17th and 18th streets sent water gushing from a broken pipe. Trees also fell just off the roadway at 14th and 12th streets, blocking the latter in front of The Cardiovascular Clinics.

According to April Norton, a registered nurse at the clinic, the power went out in the building and she heard a loud sound outside at about 4:15 p.m. A tree had fallen across 12th Street and crushed the front end of a patient's car, she said. Workers from Berry Tree Service in Heflin came to help clear the clinic's driveway so staff could get their cars out of the parking lot.

A block away, a large tree lay uprooted in the parking lot of Anniston High School. According to Mayor Vaughn Stewart, two elementary schools — Randolph Park and 10th Street — were still without power about 7:30 p.m. Schools Superintendent Joan Frazier said officials would likely decide Tuesday morning whether to have classes at those two schools, depending on whether crews can restore power overnight.

Several Calhoun County schools were also damaged by the storm, said Mike Fincher, safety and security director, including Alexandria High, Saks High, Pleasant Valley High and Wellborn High.

Of those, the middle-grades building at Alexandria High saw the most damage, as wind peeled back the roof and water seeped into five classrooms, Fincher said. The other schools’ athletic facilities were damaged.

Other areas

Leighann Butler, a planner with the Talladega County Emergency Management Agency, said no injuries had been reported in the county. She said some minor structural damage had been reported in Munford, Talladega and parts of the Talladega Superspeedway.

The storms also knocked out power to approximately 6,200 households in the Heflin-Ranburne area.

Heflin Fire Department Capt. Jonathan Adams said his agency had received 12 calls in fewer than 90 minutes reporting downed trees and power lines. Firefighters had been able to remove trees from most streets in the Heflin area. But by Monday afternoon, they were waiting for Alabama Power to test the wires before removing at least five trees that had fallen on power lines, Adams said.

In Saks, Joshua Bridges, 19, parked his black Honda Accord in a friend’s driveway and waited for his parents to meet him on Indian Oaks Drive, where a tree blocked the street. Bridges said he was driving to his home on Pawnee Drive after attending classes at Jacksonville State University when he saw the obstructed road.

Bridges said there is no other route to his home and he didn’t want to risk driving his car off the road to get around the tree.

“I’m just going to leave the car here,” Bridges said.

Brian Anderson, Eddie Burkhalter, Laura Camper, Rachael Griffin, Laura Johnson, Patrick McCreless, Trent Penny and Paige Rentz contributed reporting.
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