A reported tornado ripped through Fultondale Monday night, killing one person, critically injuring several others and leaving a path of destruction in its wake.
Fultondale Mayor Larry Holcomb said the storm – which hit the northern Jefferson County city about 10:30 p.m. – cut a quarter mile wide swath after touching down near Interstate 65.
It moved northeast toward Fultondale High School where there is substantial damage. Multiple businesses – such as Hurst Towing and the Hampton Inn were destroyed, as well as most everything in between.
A death was reported shortly after 3 a.m. The Jefferson County Coroner’s Office confirmed the single death at 4:48 a.m.
Fultondale Police Chief D.P. Smith said a young man, possibly a teen, was killed when he was trapped in the basement of his home off Newcastle Road. The family had taken shelter in the basement but it appears a tree fell on the home and caused the house to collapse.
As of 3 a.m., the Jefferson County Coroner’s Office was en route.
Smith several family members were critically injured. One escaped harm but was in shock. “They were doing what they were supposed to be doing,’’ the chief said.
More than half dozen people – and possible up to 20 – were transported to area hospitals. The non-critical injuries included broken bones.
First responders – police and firefighters – from all Jefferson County cities descended upon Fultondale to help. A command post was set up at Fultondale City Hall. Heavy rescue units from multiple neighboring agencies were on hand to help rescue victims from trapped homes. Authorities said the house-to-house searches and rescue would likely take all night.
The storm toppled trees, downed power lights and overturned vehicles. The storm path stretched from Fultondale to Center Point, with damage on the ground, according to the Jefferson County Emergency Agency.
“It’s not going to be a quick process,’’ the mayor said of the repairs and rebuild.
The storm continued on its path to eastern Jefferson County where there was more damage, though less severe for the most part. No injuries were reported.
At Southeastern Freight Lines off Sterilite Drive and Highway 79, large trucks were knocked to their sides and a propane tank had caught fire.
The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office shortly before 5 a.m. reported multiple road closures in the Center Point area due to downed trees and power lines. Old Springville Road was closed in the 5900 block, and Carson Road near Sixth Street N.W. was also closed.
Dave Moerbe, senior pastor at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Gardendale and his son, 18-year-old Sam, rushed to their old neighborhood in Fultondale when they heard of the devastation there.
The area – Georgetown Lane – is near Black Creek Park. The Moerbe family lived there until about a year ago.
”It looks like a bomb went off,’’ said Sam.
He said roughly 80 percent of the houses in the neighborhood have roof damage, and about 20 percent of those have collapsed.
All of the trees in Black Creek Park have been toppled, father and son said, and cars have been moved around if not overturncced.
“It’s just devastating,” Dave Moerbe said.
“There are 45 homes in this community and all of them have some damage. … Debris is everywhere,’’ he said. “We pulled one lady out of back window because she couldn’t get out.”
Janice Hamilton lived behind Lowes in Fultondale.
Hamilton, who uses a wheelchair, said she was in bed when the storm hit but she and her husband and sister had been watching the weather.
All of the sudden, Hamilton said, the tornado was on top of them. “The roof left, and the walls,’’ Hamilton said. “It was just in a matter of seconds. It’s all gone.”
Hamilton and her family were among a handful of victims taken to a shelter at the Gardendale Civic Center. They were transported there by firefighters.
Wrapped in a blanket with debris in her hair and a cut on the arm, Hamilton said she’s thankful they survived. “We have a lot of family,’’ she said, “so we’ll be OK.”
Tony Leopard, a safety inspector from Florida, was in town on business and staying at Fultondale’s Hampton Inn. Because he had to be at work at 3 a.m., Leopard said he went to sleep at 9 p.m. Just over an hour later, he awoke to chaos.
Leopard was in room 101, a corner of the hotel that was hardest hit. “I just got woken up from wind and debris hitting the bed,’’ he said. “It came through the windows. There was no power, no anything.”
He grabbed his phone, turned on its flashlight and rushed to get dressed. He opened the door into the hallway and said it was a mess. “Alarms were going off. You could already smell the waste water,’’’ he said. “It was bad. The lobby was destroyed.”
Ultimately the guess were evacuated and taken to a nearby restaurant that opened its doors for them when the hail followed. Most of the Hampton Inn guests were taken by bus to another hotel.
Leopard went to his truck and found it, too, nearly destroyed. The windows were shattered and the tired flat. Rescue workers told him to grab whatever would fit in his pocket, and he also was taken to the Gardendale Civic Center for the night.
He has no idea what Tuesday will bring. He said he’s thankful, though, for the help he received.
“People here, they care,’’ he said. “They’ve been wonderful.”