"Thank God this didn't happen last night," Rye said. The building was crowded Monday night for Christmas Eve services.
Rye said Mobile Fire-Rescue officials told church members to leave the complex because it was structurally unsound. He said a number of the mature oaks lining Dauphin Street — a main thoroughfare leading from downtown Mobile to Interstate 65 — were downed by the tornado. Elsewhere on Dauphin, the roof was missing from a decades-old wood-frame house, and power lines crisscrossed the road.
Ashleigh Gerth and her husband, Jason, live on the street with their sons, ages 3 and 1. Ashleigh was watching TV and realized Mobile was in the warning area when she heard a roar outside. She and her husband got everyone into the bathroom with other relatives who were there for Christmas.
"It was like a freight train was going through," said Ashleigh. As she spoke, her youngest son rested in her arms and the older boy clung to her leg.
Jason Gerth said the storm passed by in a few moments and from his porch he saw about a half-dozen green flashes in the distance as transformers blew, but their home was spared.
"It missed us by 100 feet and we have no damage," Gerth said.
Lights burned in some homes, others were dark. Police set up roadblocks because limbs and trees downed by the storm covered residential streets; red and blue lights flashed as rain pelted police cars and fire trucks.
As of 8 p.m., 26,600 customers were without power statewide — about 21,500 of them in the Mobile area, Alabama Power reported. Officials said there were also pockets of customers without power in Demopolis, Haleyville and Greensboro.
After hitting Mobile, National Weather Service officials reported the storm was heading toward Grove Hill, which is about 80 miles north of Mobile in western Alabama.