North Jefferson News, Gardendale, AL

April 30, 2014

Updated: EF-1 tornado confirmed in Kimberly, causing heavy damage

By Melanie Patterson and Robert Carter
North Jefferson News

KIMBERLY — [Editor's note: Most of this story ran in Wedmesday's print edition of The North Jefferson News, but this version includes updated information gathered since press deadlines. It also includes information that appeared previously at njeffersonnews.com.]

The smell of fresh-cut pine was thick in Kimberly Monday night and Tuesday following a tornado that uprooted numerous trees and twisted the tops off of many others. 

Three years and one day after a tornado devastated the city of Fultondale and many other cites in the Southeast, the storm cut a path across Interstate 65 and U.S. Hwy. 31 in north Jefferson County Monday night, leaving much of Kimberly in devastation. 

Kimberly Church of God and the Kimberly Fire Station both took a direct hit from the storm and are in ruins; North Jefferson Middle School is damaged but not destroyed.

A National Weather Service team surveyed the damage on Tuesday, and concluded that the storm was indeed a tornado. It was rated as EF-1 on the Enhanced Fujita scale, with a path 3.3 miles long and slightly less than half a mile wide at its widest point. The survey team said that the path began just west of I-65, at a point about a half mile south of Sardis Road. The tornado moved to the northeast through the heart of Kimberly, and lifted just short of Bill Jones Road.

Kimberly Church of God pastor Dr. Stan Cooke said residents had taken shelter inside the church basement, but all were unharmed because of a thick layer of concrete that separates the basement from the upper level of the church. 

A few yards east, the Kimberly Fire Department building and its contents were scattered across Stouts Road, a portion of which was closed Tuesday due to debris and downed trees. 

Kimberly Fire Chief Brian Gober was in the fire station’s day room with three other firefighters when the storm struck; the brick portion where the men were taking shelter is the only part of the building still standing. 

Next to the fire station is Kimberly City Hall, which suffered roof damage and downed trees. 

Kimberly Mayor Bob Ellerbrock said it is not clear when the town hall will be open for business since most of the city is without electricity. 

Ellerbrock said the good news from the storm is that there were no deaths or serious injuries in Kimberly. The National Weather Service reported four minor injuries.

The storm continued on to North Jefferson Middle School, where it ripped out a corner of the gym’s roof, leaving a gaping hole that let in a significant amount of rain water. Strong wind also damaged several doors, warping the metal frames. 

The school’s gym floor was flooded Tuesday morning, as was the lobby area and front offices. 

The entrance to the school was blocked with fallen trees, but teachers and coaches from Mortimer Jordan High School, Corner High School and North Jefferson Middle School, along with a street crew from the city of Warrior, used chainsaws to remove the debris. 

Also, faculty from other schools, including principals Laura Ware of Snow Rogers Elementary and Debra Campbell of Bryan Elementary, were on site Tuesday morning to help move frozen food from North Jefferson Middle to Mortimer Jordan High School so it would not ruin. 

Across the road from North Jefferson Middle School, numerous houses in the Doss Ferry subdivision also had significant roof damage. Other houses throughout Kimberly were also damaged by wind, trees or debris. 

There was also scattered damage in other parts of north Jefferson County. The roof was ripped off the Mt. Olive Grocery gas station and there was damage to other structures in the area. 

The community spirit was alive and well in Kimberly Tuesday, despite the heavy damage inflicted by the storm. 

Many volunteers were on hand; chainsaws made up the background music of the city as people cleared roads and removed trees from houses. 

Warrior and Morris city crews and law enforcement were working in Kimberly Monday night and Tuesday, and Morris Mayor Joe Pylant and other volunteers were traveling throughout Kimberly on a pickup truck handing out water and Gatorade to workers and volunteers. 

Monday’s tornadoes began in Mississippi, where large tornadoes struck the cities of Tupelo and Louisville in the early afternoon. A tornado in Limestone County, north of Athens, killed at least four people at about 4 p.m.

Tornadoes continued to push into central Alabama as the night wore on. In addition to the Kimberly storm, warnings were issued for Cullman and Blount counties, though no significant damage was reported.

A tornado also did considerable property damage in Graysville, and the path of that possible tornado was projected on into Mt. Olive and Gardendale, but the tornado lifted before reaching those communities. The Weather Service survey team rated that tornado as an EF-2 with a path 5.45 miles long and 1500 yards wide at its widest point. The tornado began three miles south-southwest of Adamsville, crossed over U.S. 78 and Interstate 22 (Corridor X), and lifted at a point two miles south-southwest of Brookside. Three minor injuries were reported.

A tornado struck southern and eastern parts of Tuscaloosa, where a member of the University of Alabama swimming team was killed when a retaining wall collapsed and fell on him. That same storm continued on into Bessemer, doing damage to an apartment complex behind UAB West hospital, but with nothing more than minor injuries.

Additional damage was reported in the Straight Mountain area of Blount County, south of Oneonta. The Weather Service has not announced survey results for that area.

Gov. Robert Bentley declared a state of emergency for all of Alabama on Monday, and visited the damaged areas the next day.