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NEIGHBORS: Limestone resident took cover in closet; many in county lost power

When trees and power lines started falling during strong winds Thursday morning, John Evans thought it was a tornado and hunkered down in a closet in the middle of his house in Limestone County.

“My girlfriend and I were up in the bedroom, and we were looking outside at the weather. Then all of a sudden the wind started and the rain was coming down and we started hearing debris hitting the side of the house,” Evans said. “The power went out and we started hearing cracking from trees coming down. … We thought it was a tornado.”

Evans’ gut feeling matched a National Weather Service assessment that a “likely” EF1 tornado hit the area during thunderstorms Thursday morning. Winds from the storms caused tree limbs in Evans’ neighbor’s yard to break off the trunk, demolish about 20 feet of his wooden privacy fence and cover his driveway. Evans said it happened at 8:37 a.m.

Evans lives on Hunter Lane just south of Calhoun Community College. Evans said about a 60-foot-tall pine tree came down behind his house, taking down a utility pole and two of his sheds.

“We don’t have a tornado shelter, but our neighbor has a basement so we were going to go over to his house,” Evans said. “We went to go out the front door and looked outside and no way, we’re not going outside. So, we just huddled up in a closet in the middle of the house.”

Evans said a cleanup crew that he thought was affiliated with Athens Utilities came within about an hour and cut up the felled trees.

The Limestone County Emergency Management Agency reported Thursday morning that there were power lines down around Humphrey Road and Mooresville Road. Athens Utilities reported Thursday morning that storm-related damage impacted customers serviced by French’s Mill and Belle Mina substation. Other substations were experiencing issues as well, AU said.

At 9:18 a.m. Thursday, AU reported 4,300 customers without power in the southeast portion of the county. By 3 p.m., the number of outages had been reduced to 100 customers. AU reported they were replacing broken utility poles south of Calhoun and when that work was completed most of the remaining outages should have power restored.

“We still have some cleanup to take care of Friday,” Athens Electric Department Manager Blair Davis said.

Trent Simon, Limestone County emergency management officer, said the most common reports they had were trees down in roadways. By 3 p.m. Thursday he said most of those roadways had been cleared. Simon said there was a reported tree down at the Calhoun campus, and a store nearby suffered roof damage.

In the surrounding area, at least two people were injured and more than 14,000 customers were without power on Thursday morning, according to officials.

As of Thursday afternoon, Morgan County EMA reported two injuries, but neither was life-threatening. Brandy Davis, Morgan County EMA director, said her office had a report of a camper at Jay’s Landing along Alabama 20 who was injured and transported to Decatur Morgan Hospital when the recreation vehicle he was in overturned. Davis said a worker at S&A Recycling less than a mile east of Jay’s Landing was injured by flying debris during the storm.

Most of the damage reported in the three local counties occurred from 8:30-8:45 a.m., according to the National Weather Service. The storm tracked northeast through Moulton, northwest Morgan County and southern Limestone County.

Lawrence County Emergency Management Agency Director Chris Waldrep said the majority of damage in his county occurred in Moulton. There was extensive damage to the Lawrence Medical Center roof as well as to the roof at Relax Inn on Alabama 157 near the Moulton Walmart and to greenhouses at LouAllen Farms on Lawrence County 177.

“The greenhouses were destroyed and we had some mobile homes toppled as they were lifted off their foundations,” Waldrep said. “Three horses were killed when the barn they were in got destroyed.

“As my grandfather used to say, as long as it was stuff that was destroyed, it is OK. Stuff can be replaced, people can’t.”

Limestone County EMA specialist Daphne Ellison said most of the damage in her county was reported in the southern section of the county. “We had a tree land on a house on Garrett Road and other trees were uprooted on Fennel and Humphrey roads,” she said. The athletic fields at Calhoun Community College and a store near the college received damage from the high winds, she added.

EF1 tornado

A National Weather Service survey team, assisted by Lawrence, Morgan and Limestone County EMAs, determined the damage in north-central Alabama was attributed to an EF1 tornado with peak winds of 104 mph and a track of more than 30 miles, the NWS said Thursday evening.

Huntir Cramer, a meteorologist at the weather service’s Huntsville office, said winds of 64 mph at 8:44 a.m. were the highest measured at Pryor Field just outside Decatur in Limestone County.

Approximately 14,668 electricity customers lost power in the three counties.

Decatur Utilities said it had restored power by early afternoon to its approximately 6,100 customers who lost power. The utility said that although it still had “a tremendous amount of damage throughout the city including multiple poles and trees down,” it was able to restore electric service from alternative lines while repairs are made.

Athens Utilities had 4,300 customers lose power and all but 100 had service restored by late Thursday afternoon. Joe Wheeler EMC reported a peak of 4,268 customers lost power in Lawrence and Morgan counties.

The Decatur Utilities wastewater treatment plant, across Wilson Street from Leon Sheffield, sustained damage, as did a private dock and boats next to Ingalls Harbor.

Two sets of bleachers used in fishing competitions blew from a concrete pad next to Ingalls Harbor and were submerged in the boat launch area. City crews used heavy equipment to drag them from the water.

Most of Alabama 20 from Sixth Avenue to Beltline Road was closed to traffic in the morning after a truck overturned and fallen power lines crossed the road. It did not fully reopen until about 3 p.m.

Beltline Road was completely shut down at Alabama 24 for a time Thursday morning due to downed power lines.

South affected

The storm system billowing across the South also caused a tornado that shredded the walls of homes, toppled roofs and uprooted trees in Selma, The Associated Press reported.

Autauga County Coroner Buster Barber told The Associated Press Thursday evening that “more than four” people lost their lives due to the extreme weather. Autauga County is 41 miles northeast of Selma.

There were multiple tornado warnings issued Thursday in Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee as the storm system moved through the region.

More than 50,000 customers were without power in Alabama, according to PowerOutage.us, which tracks outages nationwide.

In Georgia, more than 100,000 customers were without electricity just before sunset Thursday as the storm system carved a path across a tier of counties just south of Atlanta, according to PowerOutage.us.

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