By Sarrah Peters, News Editor
According to the National Weather Service, nine tornadoes touched down during the severe storms on Monday, March 19. Three of those tornadoes touched down in central Alabama.
The first tornado hit Blount and St. Clair counties as a category EF-1, which caused tree damage. Downed trees damaged structures and power lines in the area.
The second tornado hit locally, damaging homes in Southside and the Riddles Bend community in Rainbow City. The EF-2 tornado touched down just north of Ashville before traveling through Southside. The tornado’s winds reached 120 miles per hour, causing extensive damage to homes.
The final tornado hit Jacksonville. The EF-3 tornado with estimated winds of 140 miles per hour traveled over 30 miles, leaving de-struction in its wake. West Point Baptist Church was demolished. Several apartment complexes received extensive damages, including The Reserve, Gamecock Village and Winnn Place III. Several buildings at Jacksonville State sustained significant damage.
First responders in Southside and Etowah County spent the night assisting people affected by the storms. On Tuesday, officials said that initial and secondary searches were conducted to make sure no one was trapped or injured in the storms. Similar efforts were undertaken in Jacksonville.
Luckily, there are no reported fatalities from the storms, and only five injuries were reported.
Jacksonville State University officials said that many students were off campus or out of the area for spring break, reducing the potential for injuries. Due to the damages, JSU will remain closed until April 2 before resuming cla-sses. JSU is currently working on finding temporary housing for misplaced students from damaged dormitories and apartment complexes nearby. Since several classroom buildings were damaged, the school is trying to determine where and how to relocate the cla-sses.
In Southside, Riverview Baptist Church served as the base of operations for first responders and volunteers. Local church leaders were on hand to assist in coordinating volunteer efforts.
Alabama Emergency Management Agency Director Brian Hastings said that those affected should first secure shelter and food. The next step is to assess the damage and contact insurance providers. The EMA is available to “fill gaps” to meet people’s needs.
Deborah Gaither, the Gadsde-Etowah EMA director, said that the agency had provided “hundreds of tarps” already and were still receiving requests for them Tuesday afternoon.
The community response was incredible. Gaither said that the biggest issue the EMA had was the Southside High School football team showing up to volunteer without parental consent forms.
At Riverview Baptist Chruch on Hwy. 77, a buffet of donated food was available for first responders, volunteers and those affected by the storms. A large donation of Coca Cola products were delivered.
Local pastor Scott Hassell said that the real story was the community coming together to help those affected.
“The first responders’ job is to come in there and to protect life and safety,” said Hassell. “Once they have finished their job, it’s the role, we believe, of our churches to help the second level of need, and that’s helping people get their lives back together on a lot of different levels. Helping connect them with resources to get their homes replaced. Letting them know that they are loved and that people care about them.
“The biggest thing is just to show that in today’s world, when there’s so much arguing and bickering that our communities can work together.”
Hastings said that after the damage was assessed the state can try to get federal money to help those affected.
Governor Kay Ivey, who declared a state of emergency after the storms to activate the state EMA to assist, made an appearance at Riverview Baptist on Tuesday afternoon.
“Thank you all for doing what you’re doing to help your neighbors,” said Ivey. “We’re going to do all we can to help.”
Persons wishing to volunteer or donate money or services to help those affected should contact their local EMA.
Persons wishing volunteer in the Southside area, a Volunteer Reception Center will be located at Southside Community Center.
Volunteers will complete paperwork and receive assignments and an arm band.
Jacksonville will start volunteer efforts today, March 23. The Calhoun County EMA will be stationed at the Jacksonville Community Center to coordinate volunteers. For more information, call 256-435-8115.
Residents are reminded to be careful when donating money. Make sure the money is going to an official source. Residents with damage are warned to verify contracting licenses before hiring contractors to work on damaged homes to avoid any scammers.