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Tornadoes hit Hartselle, Lacey’s Spring; one dead

By Eric Fleischauer

For the Enquirer

Photos by Justin Powell and Mariann Parker

An EF2 tornado that tore through Hartselle left one man dead Saturday, damaged dozens of homes, downed power lines and closed roads.

The Morgan County Sheriff’s Office retrieved a 67-year-old man who was trapped when his trailer blew over into a tree in the 1400 block of Vest Road, off Vaughn Bridge Road, at about 1 a.m. today. The man was transported to Decatur Morgan Hospital where he later died of his injuries, the Sheriff’s Office said. His name has not been released. This was the only reported fatality in Alabama from the storm system.

The Hartselle tornado had 115 mph winds, according to an initial assessment by the National Weather Service. It had a maximum width of 175 yards and traveled 13.56 miles, from Alabama 157 to Interstate 65. The tornado hit at 12:23 a.m., according to the NWS, and ended at 12:29 a.m.

An EF1 tornado with 94 mph winds hit Lacey’s Spring at 12:47 a.m. and ended at 12:50 a.m., according to the NWS. It had a maximum width of 325 yards and traveled 2.09 miles. An EF2 tornado also hit near St. Florian, northeast of Florence, and traveled 0.6 miles with a maximum width of 100 yards. An EF2 struck near Fayetteville, Tennessee. 

Dozens of trees were down along U.S. 31 just south of Sparkman Street, many of them on houses, and portions of Vest Road and Vaughn Bridge Road were closed to traffic Saturday morning.

On Rhodes Street, just off U.S. 31, dozens of volunteers were helping residents remove fallen trees and debris as the sun came up today. A tree caved in the roof of Diane Weeks’ mother-in-law’s house, and Weeks was among many who were helping with the cleanup.

Weeks said an 8-year-old girl was in a bedroom where a tree landed and the roof collapsed. 

“Praise God she was not hurt. Not a scratch. And she slept through it. I wish I could sleep like that,” Weeks said.

She was awestruck by the number of volunteers helping to clear the fallen trees.

“It makes me very happy there’s so much community involvement. There’s so much meanness in this world, but when tragedy strikes people come together,” she said as she carried a log to the street.

Many of those helping at the house were members of First Missionary Baptist Church in Hartselle. George Hearring, one of the church volunteers, said the church deacon lives nearby and put out word that residents needed help.

“‘Missionary’ in our church name means something,” Hearring said. “We’re here on a mission.”

Dawn Hendricks teaches at Hartselle City Schools and is an adjunct professor at Calhoun Community College. She lives in Huntsville, but was hard at work Saturday morning on Rhode Street.

She said she knew the storms had been bad and she saw calls for help on social media.

“This is what it’s all about,” she said, rubbing a scratch on her face where a branch had struck her. “It’s hard for people to ask for help. When they do, it’s time to pitch in and help.”

She made the trip to Hartselle in part to relieve some of the burden on first responders.

“Law enforcement has lots to do right now,” she said. “You don’t have to have a gun and a badge to serve your community.”

Hartselle Utilities had about 200 without power as of 4:30 p.m., according to General Manager Bob Sittason. He said crews were working to replace a dozen damaged utility poles. A Decatur Utilities crew is helping Sunday with the restoration of power, and Sittason did not expect all customers to have power until Monday.

“The storm hit the north end of our system, around North Sparkman Street. We were fortunate that it hit just the north end of our system, in that Rhode Street and Peach Orchard Road area, because that minimized outages,” Sittason said. “We’ve been very fortunate over the years. I’ve been here 17 years, and this is the first damage like this we’ve had since I’ve been there. Tornadoes have hit all around us, but in the past we’ve been spared.” 

Sittason said much of Hartselle is covered by Joe Wheeler EMC, which was reporting far more outages.

As of 6:30 a.m. there were 2,377 Joe Wheeler EMC customers without power, most in Morgan County, and that number had dropped to 1,227 as of 3:30 p.m. At least 37 Joe Wheeler utility poles were broken and trees were down on numerous power lines. Most of the outages were on the west side of Hartselle and south to Danville, JWEMC said. In the hard-hit Vaughn Bridge Road area, the cooperative was warning that many would likely be without power until sometime Sunday.

Hartselle Mayor Randy Garrison said residents were hit hard by the storm, both from direct damage and from the widespread power outages. He said he had spoken to one family whose uninsured home was destroyed; they were being assisted by Red Cross.

A few Decatur Utilities customers lost power, but there were no widespread outages.

Ashley Ravenscroft, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Huntsville, said three NWS teams assessed the damage.

“They can look at the size and type of (fallen) tree, and whether it was snapped or uprooted. That can give a really good indication of how strong the winds had to be in order to do that.”

NWS said its survey teams assessed all of Morgan County, the Florence and Killen areas of Lauderdale County and the Fayetteville area of southern Tennessee.

At about 1 a.m., the Sheriff’s Office said, deputies helped about seven people leave a group home near Cullman Regional Hospital’s Hartselle Healthpark off U.S. 31 after they were trapped in the structure due to downed power lines and trees. At about the same time, deputies responded when a vehicle struck a downed tree at the 3100 block of Union Hill Road in Union Grove. Live power lines were on the car, but the Sheriff’s Office reported no injuries.

The Sheriff’s Office also reported extensive damage along Iron Man Road just west of Hartselle.

The same storm system killed at least 25 in Mississippi.


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