Tornadoes Leave Trail of Devastation (Photos)

By on May 1, 2014

Monday’s storms left a trail of damage through several Alabama communities and knocked out electricity to thousands of people in the region. According to preliminary estimates released by the American Red Cross, more than 1,000 homes were destroyed or heavily damaged. Read the story below the photos. 

Photos by Kyle Thompson

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‘You can’t put a price on a life': Community shelters providing safe haven from severe weather

(MCT) The Cullman Times, Ala.

After seeing entire blocks flattened during the April 27, 2011 tornadoes that hit the area, most Cullman County residents played it safe earlier this week when a potentially dangerous system of storms pounded the county.

Cullman County residents fled to local storm shelters for protection during Monday’s severe weather. In the relatively small town of Garden City, 400 people — more than two-thirds of the town’s overall population — sought safety in the town’s shelters.

Many area communities built new safety shelters with the capability to hold anywhere from 50 to 500 people as a safe haven following the tornadoes that tragically ravaged the area a few years ago.

Garden City Mayor Tim Eskew said their local shelters can hold approximately 500 people, with each of the five sections able to accommodate 96 people.

“It’s a blessing to have them and, honestly, I feel like we all need more,” Eskew said. “The storms are getting rougher and longer, and I feel like we’re getting more of them. It’s something we need to have available.”

There are approximately a dozen community shelters open across the county, dotting towns from Good Hope to Hanceville. The shelters became a major priority in the wake of the 2011 storms, and almost every local town applied for grant funds and assistance to build community shelters.

Many shelters are already functional, while communities such as Crane Hill and Colony are still in the process of getting funding and property.

Cherrie Haney, with the Cullman County Economic Development Office, has been writing storm shelter grants for the past decade and said the cause has become a sort of passion project as her office worked with the Cullman County Emergency Management Agency and local towns to build as many sites as possible.

Haney said they had some projects approved with federal assistance following Hurricanes Katrina and Gustav, before more individual and town shelter funds were made available in the wake of the 2011 tornadoes that wreaked havoc on the southeast.

“Individual shelters became the priority after April 27 (2011), and (former director) Sammie Danford really picked up the baton on that and we had 217 individual shelter grants funded,” Haney said. “If just one life is saved from these efforts, it’s entirely worth it. You can’t put a price on a life. What if it’s your mother, your sister, your brother or your child? I think we’re very fortunate to have as many shelters as we do.”

West Point Mayor Kenneth Kilgo said his local shelter reached its maximum capacity when the tornado sirens began blaring to alert residents of the conditions on Monday evening.

“It was jam-packed full, and we had over 100 people and they started coming in yesterday in the late afternoon,” Kilgo said. “We had a lot of young families with small kids at the beginning. We were thankful because a lot of the damaging weather split before it got to us and we were safe. We need to be praying for those towns who did get hit.”

The town of Holly Pond is currently using the town hall basement as a public shelter, which will hold approximately 50 people, as well as a local church basement when severe weather hits.

“The Holly Pond town hall has a basement in it and we housed about 20 people last night during the storm and it will hold about 50,” Holly Pond Mayor Herman Nail said. “The Holly Pond Methodist Church has a complete shelter for the public and it’s certified. They opened Monday night at 7 p.m. and didn’t close until about midnight. It can hold 150-200 people.”

Nail said the town does not currently have a large-scale public shelter due to lack of adequate property within the town limits to build on.

“We know where some land is, but you can only pay so much for land,” Nail said. “We’re trying to do the best we can. We would like to get something for the town rather than being in three different places. We’re going to be working on that in the future.”

Storm shelters

  •  Chapel Village/Jones Chapel: Just off U.S. 278 West, located at 74 Co Rd 1034, Capacity 90-100. Always open.
  •  Hanceville: Three shelters located at the following sites — 202 Bangor Ave. S.E., 203 Michele Street N.W. and 1407 Commercial St. S.E. — each with capacity for 96, opened by Hanceville police.
  •  Cullman County Courthouse: Basement hallway located at 500 Second Ave. S.W., capacity unknown, opened by Cullman EMS.
  •  Dodge City: Just off I-65 at the 299 mile marker located in Town Hall basement at 130 Howard Circle, capacity unknown, opened by town officials during tornado watch.
  •  Fairview: Housing Authority located at 96 Countryside Acres Road, capacity 90-100, always open.
  •  Garden City: Town Hall at 501 First Ave. S.W., capacity 450-plus (five shelters), opened by town officials during tornado watch.
  •  Vinemont/Providence: Two shelters located at VFD No. 1 at 576 County Road 1355, capacity 90-100 each, opened by fire department during a tornado watch.
  •  South Vinemont: Two shelters located at Town Hall at 60 Ridgeway St., capacity 90-100 each, opened by fire department during a tornado watch.
  •  Good Hope: City Hall Basement located at 134 Town Hall Drive, capacity at 100, always opened. A second and third shelter are located behind city hall and the Good Hope VFD No. 2 at 301 Day Gap Road respectively, each with a capacity of 96 and will be opened by city officials.
  •  Smith Lake: Located at the county’s park at 416 County Road 385, capacity 96, opened by park director.
  •  West Point: Beside West Point Town Hall, 4050 County Road 1141, capacity 96, opened by town officials.
  •  Baileyton: Behind Baileyton Volunteer Fire Station, 112 Fairview Road, capacity 96, open by town officials.
  • Shelter rules: No weapons, alcohol, illegal drugs, smoking or pets allowed, per Cullman County Emergency Management Agency

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