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Alabama hit again by tornadoes; 2 dead, 100 hurt

By JAY REEVES Published: January 24, 2012
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State Climatologist John Christy said there seems to be a general path from central Mississippi going into north Alabama that gets attention for a large number of especially intense tornadoes. One theory has to do with the distance from the Gulf of Mexico. The area sits between the warm moist air from the Gulf and cold air from the north.

“It's the frequency and intensity of the storms that tend to align on this corridor,” said Christy, a professor at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.

In Clay, northeast of Birmingham, 16-year-old Christina Nicole Heichelbech was killed, the Jefferson County coroner's office said. Rescue workers said her parents were injured.

Laurie Gibbs and her husband awoke to the screaming winds and went downstairs to check on their two teenage sons. A neighbor's pine tree crashed in the back of their home within moments, punching a hole in the roof, and each of their three cars was smashed by fallen oak trees.

After grabbing buckets to catch the rainwater spilling into the house, Gibbs opened the front door and looked toward the Georgebrook subdivision of brick homes across the street.

“I could see power lines down, but it was dark and raining so hard I couldn't see much else,” she said. “After a few minutes, I could tell there were houses missing.”

More than a half-dozen brick homes were flattened, leaving a trail of beige insulation, clothes, splintered lumber and siding splattered along a hill.

Stevie Sanders woke up around 3:30 a.m. and realized bad weather was on the way. She, her parents and sister hid in the laundry room of their brick home as the wind howled and trees started cracking.

“You could feel the walls shaking and you could hear a loud crash. After that it got quiet, and the tree had fallen through my sister's roof,” said Sanders.

The family was OK, and her father, Greg Sanders, spent the next hours raking his roof and pulling away pieces of broken lumber.

“It could have been so much worse,” he said. “It's like they say, we were just blessed.”

The mayor of Maplesville, about 45 miles south of Birmingham, said a storm came through about 5 a.m., downing many trees and causing major damage to about five buildings.

More than 50 people were in the town's dome-shaped storm shelter when the winds blew the top of a sweet gum tree, about one-foot in diameter, on to the steel building. No damage was done and no one was injured in the shelter, built about five years ago with a FEMA grant because of past tornadoes.

“The shelter did what it was supposed to do,” Mayor Aubrey Latham said.