MOBILE, Ala. (AP) — Residents of old neighborhoods ripped apart by Christmas Day tornadoes wrapped up in coats and pulled on gloves for warmth Wednesday, the sound of screaming chainsaws replacing the scary roar of tornadoes that left damage scattered across much of Alabama.
With only a handful of injuries and no deaths reported statewide from the storms, the head of the state's emergency response said it was difficult to fathom how the toll wasn't worse.
"I think we had a lot of tornadoes that were capable of producing damage. We're just very fortunate this morning for whatever reason that it wasn't worse," Art Faulkner, director of the Alabama Emergency Management Agency, said after surveying storm-tossed areas in Mobile. It was the second time in five days a twister hit Mobile; a small tornado left damage along a trail 7 miles long on Dec. 20.
Alabama Power Co. said storms affected more than 47,500 customers, but power was restored in most areas outside the hardest-hit parts of Mobile, where falling limbs from massive hardwoods snapped power lines and covered streets. Many people spent the night in cold, dark houses and temperatures dipped into the 40s after the storms passed.
The tree-lined neighborhoods near downtown Mobile took the worst hit statewide: A twister slammed into Murphy High School and heavily damaged a historic church, leaving neighborhoods littered with trees and debris from damaged homes. The weather service said the damage was caused by a small twister that hit near downtown Mobile.
But damage was widespread across Alabama: The weather service reported structural or tree damage in about 15 counties, and Faulkner said preliminary reviews found six counties with several dozen damaged homes total. The weather service said trees were knocked down as far north as the Tennessee Valley, about 340 miles north, and a mobile home park was hit hard near Troy in Pike County, about 185 miles northeast of Mobile.
A damage assessment by forecasters showed an EF-1 tornado with winds up to 100 mph struck Marengo County near Demopolis, hurting no one but destroying two mobile homes and damaging a dozen houses along a path nearly 6 miles long and 500 yards wide. Gov. Robert Bentley and Faulkner are scheduled to visit areas that were impacted by the storms on Thursday. As of Wednesday night, their tour was set to begin at Murphy High School around 8:45 a.m.
With only one person known hospitalized — a man whose mobile home was destroyed in the Pike County twister — Faulkner said the low number of casualties might be a result of the skittishness many people still feel because of the killer storms of April 2011, when tornadoes killed about 250 people statewide.