The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

December 26, 2012

Daybreak expected to bring storm damage into focus


Associated Press

— MOBILE, Ala. (AP) — Authorities early Wednesday were hoping to get a clearer picture of the damage done by storms in Alabama as daylight revealed the extent of the destruction.

In Mobile's downtown area, a school, church and several homes were damaged by a likely tornado on Christmas Day before the storm system that brought twisters to many places in the South moved to other parts of the state.

Despite the damage in Mobile, fire officials said they completed a door-to-door search and found two people who needed to go to shelters, but no injuries.

Crews had restored power to most of the 25,800 customers in the Mobile area who lost it as of 7 a.m. Wednesday, Alabama Power reported. About 5,700 were still without power in the Mobile area.

Statewide, about 11,100 customers remained without power at 7 a.m.

Waves of storms moved across Mobile, complicating damage assessments because of the continued threat of high winds or twisters.

Crews from the National Weather Service crews expected to perform damage assessments Wednesday morning.

In Mobile, the storms overturned cars and blew out windows at Mobile Infirmary, which was operating on generator power because of outages, but no one was hurt, said Nancy Johnson, a spokeswoman for the Mobile County Commission.

Scott Rye, a senior warden at Trinity Episcopal Church, said a large section of the church's roof was missing and the front wall of the parish hall building was destroyed in the storm.

"Thank God this didn't happen last night," Rye said. The building was crowded 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 Street, 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.

As of 9 p.m., 31,000 customers were without power statewide — about 26,000 of them in the Mobile area, Alabama Power reported. Officials said there were also pockets of customers without power in Demopolis, Haleyville and Greensboro.

"We will work on the state level to do everything we can to help communities across the state," Gov. Robert Bentley said in a statement. "The people of Alabama are strong. We will recover together."