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Rebuilding From Disaster: Fultondale Tornado

Published: Jul. 16, 2021 at 4:35 PM EDT
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FULTONDALE, Al. (WHSV) - During the night of January 25th, 2021, a deadly tornado struck the city of Fultondale, Alabama, north of Birmingham just before midnight.

When the storm was over, what was left was a ten mile path of destruction. The tornado was of EF-3 strength with winds of up to 150 mph. “I could feel boards falling and hitting me and the whole house was rocking and shaking and then it quit. When it quit, I had to push all the stuff off of me,” said Tim Herring, a storm survivor.

More than 30 people were injured with a fourteen year old boy the lone fatality. Hundred of homes were damaged or destroyed. One family was traveling home from Florida to Indiana and decided to stop for the night at a hotel that was hit. “Frightening, frightening, very frightening. Thankful that we all got out, everyone got out. Everyone was so helpful,” said Barbara Van Vlymen, from Indiana.

Knowing how prone the city is to tornadoes, Fultondale Public Works was in the process to add more storm shelters. “We have the plans actually to do about five total shelters to cover our city and unfortunately the areas that were so incredibly devastated in the events over the evening last night were not in this area,” said Randy Posey of Fultondale Public Works.

Because the tornado hit during the middle of winter, staying warm was a challenge for people who lost power and many were just trying to process what happened. “It’s been hard to just like remember what happened but at the same time it has been heartwarming because a lot of people have reached out to us,” said Christopher Arizaga, brother of the fourteen year old boy that died from the storm.

The Fultondale High School baseball team picked up their home plate from the field to carry with them everywhere they go. “No matter where we are at that’s our home. Fultondale is our home. We’re Fultondale strong and we are going to play for the city,” said Michael Franklin, Fultondale’s baseball coach. As the season approached spring, a statewide baseball tournament raised thousands of dollars for Fultondale. “These kids understand that this is you know kinda bigger than playing baseball,” said Tim Armstrong, district director for Grand Slam North Alabama.

Spring also means severe weather season. Severe storms did delay the very long cleanup process which can take several months or even years to fully recover. Given the number of tornadoes that the state of Alabama sees annually, the state government was helping out making sure people could have the access to get potential life-saving supplies. “It’s really, really important that people take the steps now before something happens,” said Melissa Sizemore of Jefferson County EMA.

Storm shelters were continuously being built after another tornado had touched down in the area 10 years ago with this recent event just adding more urgency. “If you live in a mobile home, if you live in a manufactured typed of structure home, you need to get out in case of an emergency and that’s what these storm shelters are for and they are strategically placed around the county,” said Jimmie Stephens, Jefferson County commissioner.

When it comes to severe weather, being pro-active is extremely important.

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