The January 2012 Tornado

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Residents along the north side of Birmingham are digging out after a line of storms rumbled across the state early Monday morning. A tornado killed at least two people in Jefferson County. And as WBHM’s Andrew Yeager reports, the damage is a reminder of the killer tornados which struck the state just last spring.

Wooden chimes hang from the front door of Harold Isbell’s home near Argo on the border of Jefferson and St. Clair County. They sway slowly in the breeze now, but early this morning Isbell says the wind came suddenly.

“Boom! And I had to drag my wife, my kids and everybody out.”

Isbell’s chin quivers as he surveys what’s left of his home while chain saw crews start work. A wooden deck lies crumpled in front of the house. Toppled tree branches ensnare the roof. A tree trunk crushes one end of the house. It’s on the bedroom where his granddaughter Ericka slept. She says she heard the tree cracking and dashed into the hallway before it fell.

“And then just stuff was blowing. You could feel like the whole house pick up. And I felt myself, just, I thought it was gonna suck me away.

The family burrowed through the debris to escape. Ericka Isbell says she’s been getting lots of messages and calls from friends and she’s thankful for that. But it’s still crazy. She watches a guy standing on the roof cutting branches.

“I mean there’s a man on top of a tree on the top of my house.”

The Isbell family appeared to be near the end of a lengthy path of destruction. The probable tornado ripped through homes in Oak Grove, before passing through Fultondale, Center Point, Clay and Trussville. Several hundred homes are reported damaged or destroyed. Another storm caused damage to buildings in Maplesville, about 45 miles south of Birmingham.

Center Point and Clay appeared to face the brunt of the storm. And just a few hours after the skies calmed, dozens of volunteers gather in the parking lot of the Clay United Methodist Church eager to respond.

Organizer Mike Jenne takes charge of this staging area, corralling the first group of volunteers. It’s still a dangerous unfolding situation, but Jenne keeps things upbeat.

“You guys know how to run chain saw. I don’t. Use common sense. Don’t go out there and get tired and cut your arm off unless, you know, that’s what you want to do. Don’t do that.”

Crews have been busy securing power and gas lines, allowing volunteers to clear access routes into areas which suffered damage. After that they’ll go door-to-door to complete the search and rescue. Jenne says over the next several days, they’ll bring in food, water and other basic needs to victims.

“Because people are not prone to leave their houses, even in an emergency situation. So you really have to go to them and provide for their physical needs.”

It’s hard to see the events of this day and not think of the killer tornados last April, which devastated Tuscaloosa, the Pratt City neighborhood of Birmingham and many other parts of the state. Mike Jenne says even in these first few hours, he can see the effects of that storm. Volunteers are more knowledgeable. They know how they should respond.

“It’s tragic, but that practice paid dividends.”

Volunteer Lindsay Woodall says he got some experience in that April tornado outbreak, which killed almost 250 people. And he’s pretty singled minded which it comes to this response.

“You know, how can I help? It’s unfortunate that it happens. When folks are affected by storms like this they need every little bit of help they can get.”

As Woodall talks, bottled water, food and bags of snacks are carried into the church. Some of the “helping” supplies that’ll be needed in the coming days.

Andrew Yeager

Andrew Yeager