Jacksonville storm aftermath_018 tp.jpg

JSU student Lydia Ardrey carries an armful of clothes Friday as she moves out of her house after a powerful storm rolled through Jacksonville on Thursday morning. The storm downed trees and power lines, and in one case ripped away a roof. Ardrey's house was deemed unlivable. (Trent Penny/The Anniston Star)

JACKSONVILLE — John Chandler was sitting on his couch using his phone when an unwanted visitor crashed into his roof Thursday morning.

In just a few seconds, strong winds had smashed a tree into the Jacksonville State University sophomore’s apartment on Mountain Street Northwest.

“I was sure I was going to die,” Chandler said. “If the tree hadn’t caught on the roof and kept going through, it would have gotten me.”

The JSU student was unharmed, but now he’s lost his place to live.

He’s not the only one.

The storm, which knocked down trees and power lines in the city Thursday, damaged multiple rental properties used almost exclusively by JSU students, leaving some scrambling to find new accommodations for the rest of the semester.

“I’m lucky, my grandmother has a place here, so I’m living in her basement right now,” Chandler said Friday as he rummaged through his former apartment to collect some of his belongings. “And my property manager said he’s going to set up me and my roommate with a new place soon.”

Straight line winds knocked large trees down on power lines and houses across Jacksonville cutting power to many residents. 

Mark Williams, building inspector for the city of Jacksonville, said an estimated 70 properties were damaged in some way during the storm. Of those, about 50 received significant damage and 10 were deemed unlivable.

“I’d say about 100 percent of the people that needed to relocate were college students,” Williams said.

Williams said that to help with the relocations, the city agreed to a landlord’s request to temporarily waive restrictions on how many people can live in rental properties.

According to city law, three unrelated people can rent a house in areas zoned for single-family homes if it's owned by family members of one of those three. Otherwise, only two unrelated people can rent a property in a single-family zone. The council passed the law in 2011 to address growing complaints from homeowners about unruly parties and neighborhood streets clogged with cars.

“We feel like that with this situation, these kids need help to finish school and then move on,” Williams said.

The waiver of restrictions for the landlord will end once JSU’s spring semester is over though, he said.

Lydia Ardrey, a senior majoring in history, was busy Friday morning packing clothes into her car from her rented duplex on Mountain Street while a crew worked to remove a fallen tree in her front yard. Ardrey said her place was deemed unlivable, which allowed her to break her lease and move.

Ardrey said she and her boyfriend were already looking to move into an apartment complex and that, because of the storm, the managers there agreed to fast-track their application.

“I can’t really live in the new place yet though because they have to clean it and get it ready,” she said. “We’re staying with friends right now ... we should be able to move in a week or so.”

Emily Ann Burger, a senior, was in her rental house with roommates just a few blocks away from Ardrey when the storm knocked a tree into it.

“I was in my bedroom and had dozed off and then the wind woke me up,” Burger said. “I glanced out my window and could see the tree falling and I started yelling.”

Burger said a man who owns a house across the street agreed to let her and her roommates live there for free the rest of the semester.

“We’re so fortunate ... it’s a three-bedroom that he recently remodeled,” she said. “He made us a set of keys ... we’re very, very blessed.”

JSU student Ann Katherine Dothard said her Boykin spaniel, Otis, was the only occupant at her home on Mountain Street when a tree fell on her front porch.

“When I got back he was so scared ... he was freaked out,” Dothard said.

Dothard said her father owns the house and determined it was still livable.

“I still have power and he’s going to do all the repair work this weekend,” Dothard said.

Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.