DEVASTATION: One dead, homes destroyed after tornado touches down

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 2, 2007

The Selma Times-Journal

MILLERS FERRY – One man was killed and 30 to 40 homes were destroyed when a tornado touched down in a residential area in Millers Ferry Thursday.

Joyce Williams, director of Wilcox County Emergency Management Agency, confirmed Cliff Gaston died when his mobile home was destroyed. She said two other people were injured and had been transported to J. Paul Jones Hospital in Camden.

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Charles and Chuck Owens, Gaston’s in-laws, were looking around the site Thursday afternoon, surveying the debris. All of the homes in the immediate area were completely destroyed, leaving piles of rubble, and the occasional concrete slab.

Neighbors told them Gaston had taken shelter in his utility room, which “is supposed to be the safest place you can be in a mobile home,” said Chuck Owens, Gaston’s brother-in-law.

Williams said the EMA has set a curfew from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. on Sand Island.

She added that most of the homes in the area were secondary homes, although there are several full time residents in the community.

A tornado also touched down twice Thursday in the rural community of Five Points near Orrville, where two homes were destroyed. Fortunately, nobody was home.

Schools in central and south Alabama were dismissed early due to the severe weather. The Dallas County Courthouse, Wallace Community College Selma and Concordia College all closed early in anticipation of bad weather.

James Carson walked around the scattered debris in his front yard in Five Points, trying to get a signal on his cell phone. He said he was at work with M&B Railroad just after 1 p.m. when he learned his mobile home was affected.

“I got a call from my niece and she told me my trailer had been knocked off the blocks,” Carson said. “I was thinking I could get somebody and have the blocks re-set. I wasn’t expecting this. I didn’t know it had been turned over.”

Carson said he lived alone and worked seven days a week, most weeks.

“You can get material things back,” Carson said. “I’m glad I wasn’t home.”

Carson’s home on County Road 342 was the second to sustain damage.

Minutes before, the twister touched down on County Road 31, demolishing the home of Willie Lee Mitchell, pushing the house off its foundation and scattering debris in the tree tops enroute to Carson’s home.

Dallas County Sheriff’s Deputy Dwight Woods secured the property until Mitchell returned.

Authorities said she was “running some errands” in Selma and was not home when the tornado touched down.

According to reports damage was sustained in Lowndes County. Minor damage was reported in Davenport, Sandy Ridge and Letohatchee communities. There were no reports of injuries.

Providing Help

Capt. Don New of the Salvation Army was on site Thursday and said the agency was prepared to help in the short-term, but will stay for the long-term as well.

“Once we figure out what’s going on, we can bring more folks in. We’re here for them,” he said of those affected by the storm.

New and his wife, Kelley, along with three volunteers, set up a feeding unit Thursday evening to feed a hot meal to first responders and individual families.

“Once the crews leave, they’ll be without anyone,” he said. “We’ll address their long-term recovery.”

Jakki Caldwell-Phillips of the Black Belt chapter of the American Red Cross was also on the scene.

“We’re sheltering any families that were displaced. We’ll provide any type of immediate needs,” she said, adding that a shelter had been established at Riverview Baptist Church.

Statewide Damage

At least 18 people died and more than 50 were hospitalized statewide when the tornados ripped through the state.

Enterprise was hard-hit, with the high school and some of downtown suffering major damage, according to the Associated Press.

Gov. Bob Riley declared a state of emergency following the severe weather.

By declaring a state of emergency, Riley authorizes the Alabama Emergency Management Agency to make the appropriate assessments of damages and seek the necessary state and federal assistance for the affected areas.

The declaration also provides for the opening of emergency shelters and emergency special needs shelters in the affected areas.

“I am truly sorry that the people of Alabama have had to endure these storms,” Riley said. “I am committed to providing all of our residents with any assistance they may need.”

Riley will tour Enterprise High School today to survey damage caused by the storms.

Accompanying Riley will be Alabama Superintendent of Education Dr. Joe Morton, Alabama Emergency Management Agency Director Bruce Baugham, and Alabama Department of Public Safety Chris Murphy.