FULTONDALE — Tornadoes are known for leaving a trail of destruction, but in one case the devastation resulted in growth.
When a tornado roared through Fultondale two years ago last week, it left more than 45 destroyed businesses and houses in its path, along with wrecked trees, downed power lines and other damage. No lives were lost in the city, a fact that Mayor Jim Lowery repeatedly calls a miracle.
One of the few large buildings that still had electricity in the aftermath of the storm was Fultondale United Methodist church.
The Rev. Ron Gonia and his family were at their Fultondale home when the tornado hit. He soon received a call from a church member asking what he and other members needed to do to help others.
Gonia met some of the congregation at the church an hour later. From that point on, the church became a headquarters of rescue operations for north Jefferson County.
For two months, volunteers met at the church to provide countless free meals; cut and remove damaged trees at 157 homes; give out clothing; and provide a place of rest for other rescue workers.
“We really became a crisis center,” Gonia said. “It put our church on the map. We were the one place with power and space. We could provide.”
The activity began to slow down toward the end of June, but Gonia said with a laugh that volunteers are “still on alert.” They remind him from time to time to call them if there are any needs in the community.
In its own way, the tornado provided a sense of community among the members of Fultondale United Methodist Church, Gonia said.
Now, the church is the official city shelter for storms since the former shelter — the library — was heavily damaged by the tornado.
Since church members were reaching outward to the community, no one noticed until after the crisis began to abate that the church itself had received some damage.