Bad weather and tornado cause damage in south Butler County

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 28, 2001

A family of four was injured and rendered homeless when their home was destroyed during a tornado strike that left McKenzie without power for nearly 12 hours Saturday evening.

The same storm wreaked havoc at the Calvary Baptist Church in Georgiana, and caused three more tornado warnings to be issued in Butler County.

"We received notification from the National Weather Service Station in Mobile, Ala., beginning at 2:16 p.m. on Saturday indicating the severe weather we could expect," said Janice Stamps, director of the Butler County Emergency Communication District (E-911). "Our operators issued a tornado watch at that time, which was originally scheduled to expire at 8 p.m."

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Stamps said a watch indicates that conditions are favorable for a tornado to occur.

"Shortly after that, we were issued and relayed a severe thunderstorm warning," Stamps said.

Stamps said everything else relayed that night was in the form of warnings.

"At 4:45 p.m. we relayed a tornado warning, indicatingthat radar had spotted a tornado headed toward Georgiana, in the area of the I-65 and Ala. Hwy. 106 interchange," she said. "The next warning, issued at 5:30 p.m., indicated a tornado headed toward the west side of McKenzie. A third warning was issued at 6:30 p.m., for the Bolling and Wald communities."

Stamps said with the first warning, emergency services were dispatched, and others were calling in for update.

"We dispatched, fire, EMS and law enforcement agencies to the affected areas, and had law enforcement in the entire county serving as weather spotters," she said.

On Ala. Hwy. 106 west of Georgiana, the tornado hurled pieces of signs at the new Fred's store across the street, where it also caused partial collapse to the Calvary Baptist Church.

"We were told there were people trapped in the church, but when deputies arrived, we were advised they were just shaken up, but where able to get out without injury," Stamps said.

The area most severely hit by the storm was the greater McKenzie community.

The home of Tammy and Billy Morgan, located on Odom Crossroads, just west of McKenzie, was destroyed.

The Morgans, along with their two adolescent children were in their mobile home when they heard a loud roar, and the house began to roll.

It did not rest until it was nearly 100 yards from its foundation, but when it finally stopped, it had been ripped completely apart.

Tammy Morgan was the most severely injured of the four occupants, with blunt trauma injuries to her head, and a broken jaw. She was transported to Georgiana Doctors Hospital for emergency assessment before being rushed to Jackson Hospital for treatment by a neurologist.

On Monday morning, she was listed in critical but stable condition. The other three family members were treated and released for minor injuries.

A piece of rafter from the home was found more than 20 feet high in a tree approximately one quarter of a mile from the homesite.

Insulation was found in yards nearly two miles away on Patrick Road, where a family's trampoline was no where to be found.

Volunteer firemen from McKenzie, Garland and Georgiana fire departments responded, as did ambulances from Georgiana and Conecuh County.

To make matters worse, as the twister was leaving the area, it downed trees on County Road 8 before crossing Persimmon Creek Hill on U.S. Hwy. 31, where more than 100 trees were uprooted and thrown across ten spans of high power electrical wires and the main thoroughfare, shutting it down and causing emergency crews to detour on other routes.

This left the entire Town of McKenzie in a blackout, and it was nearly 12 hours later when Alabama Power Company crews from as far away as Montgomery and Birmingham were able to restore power to the community.

Law Enforcement officers from the Butler County Sheriff's Office, Conecuh County Sheriff's Office and McKenzie Police Department also responded, securing the area.

Tree limbs took down many wires in the area, and fell across roads, requiring hundreds of neighborhood volunteers with chainsaws to respond and assist in the clean-up.

Shortly after the Morgan home was destroyed, a tree was downed in the same area, taking with it a power line. The wire and tree landed on a passing Chevrolet Blazer.

Although the occupants had to remain in the vehicle until officials from Pioneer Electric removed the wire, the pair was unharmed.

"I am extremely proud of our operators," said Stamps. "There was a tremendous amount of high-pressure activity going on, all at the same time, and they did very well n they got the word out as quick as it came in, and sent the emergency response crews to all the right areas, at the same time keeping up with sudden detours and crew rerouting."