The Montgomery Advertiser from Montgomery, Alabama on April 10, 1998 · 12
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The Montgomery Advertiser from Montgomery, Alabama · 12

Montgomery, Alabama
Issue Date:
Friday, April 10, 1998
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12A Friday, April 10, 1998 SPECIAL REPORT: DEADLY TORNADOES STRIKE ALABAMA Montgomery Advertiser Family's faith By Alvin Benn MONTGOMERY ADVERTISER HUEYTOWN Gary McGowen - had just returned home from ; church services Wednesday night . when he found himself in a living ; hell. I "All of a sudden, I heard this ' loud humming sound," he said j . Thursday afternoon as he picked i through the rubble of what once f ', had been his mobile home. "Then I i looked up and saw a big black : ; square in the sky. That's where the . tornado was." ; - Rushing next door to his in law's . brick house, he found his wife, ; -Kathy, and their 3-year-old daugh-. ter Hannah, who had taken refuge ', with her parents, Wilson and Betty Wallace. - The twister hit just as they dived for cover, looking for anything to , protect them. For Kathy and her daughter, their cover was Gary. "He put his body over ours," she said. "He saved us." At 260 pounds, Gary McGowen, , 36, became a big, soft pillow for his .wife and daughter. He has been , disabled for several years, unable to work because of a physical problem. But his bulk proved to be a '. life-saver in disguise. El Nino may just be getting started ' By Kim Williams-Neil ; MONTGOMERY ADVERTISER As peak tornado season arrived in the Southeast last month, fore-; casters warned Alabamians to ex- ; pect more than twice the normal ; .' number of tornadoes this year be- ' cause of the El Nino weather pat-: ; tern. The prediction hit home in !4. deadly fashion in the Birmingham ; area Wednesday night. Montgomery escaped most of I'the severe weather, even though the city remained under a tornado I t watch until early Thursday morn-, ing. Gail J. Sanders said she sat up ; restlessly in her north Montgom- ery home, waiting nervously for a I -sign that the severe weather had ; passed. "I was afraid. I just kept pray-; ing that the severe weather would just pass on by. I just feel so sorry ; for those that weren't so lucky," " she said. 1 An average of six deaths and ' 100 injuries tied to tornadoes are !, reported annually in Alabama, ; said Jim Candor, a spokesman for 1 Accu Weather Inc. : Experts say no single place in Alabama is more likely than oth-; . ers to receive tornadoes. Alabama averages 20 tornadoes i a year. The record is 45 in 1957, ' 1973 and 1982. Storm reports Here are damage and incident reports reported to the National Weather Service by weather spotters and taw enforcement agencies in the path of Wednesday's storm Hamilton !; MARION Baseball-sized hail reported. FAYETTE Fayette Tornado reported Wind damages church TUSCALOOSA Funnel cloud reported Moundville V : Tuscaloosa GREENE jf S HALE Wilson Wallace, who has a heart condition, was taken to a hospital for observation and his wife stayed by his side. Gary and Kathy McGowen, 30, spent part of Thursday at Calvary Baptist Church where he had attended services just before the storm hit the Rock Creek area in this Jefferson County community. The church had been turned into a shelter for storm victims and Gary tried to cheer up those who had been brought in. Wearing a bright orange Auburn T-shirt, the Louisiana native let out an LSU yell to let everybody know his true allegiance. He kept up the easy patter in an effort to lift the spirits of those recovering from the storm's effects. After a brief stay at the church, the McGowens decided to revisit what was left of their neighborhood. Kathy McGowen gathered what family items she could in her arms until she couldn't carry anymore. As they began to leave the site, Kathy found something special and it brought a smile to her husband's face. It was the family Bible with a large hole through the back cover, apparently caused by a sharp object. In two of those years, El Nino was blamed for the severe weather patterns. And this year could just be the beginning of a disastrous trend forecasters say Alabama could be in for rougher-than-normal tornado seasons through 2000. The peak season for tornadoes is generally from March to May, with the secondary season in November, when seasons are changing. By the end of May, tornado season shifts northward to the Midwest. But tornado activity is not limited to any particular season, Candor said. "You can have tornadoes any time of the year. Tornadoes are produced through thunderstorms," he said. The likelihood of a tornado occurrence decreases in the winter, because there are fewer thunderstorms. About an hour or two before a tornado strikes, clouds can appear as if they are turned upside down, bulging downward, and seem greenish in color. Wednesday night's storms were produced by a warm, moist and unstable atmosphere that covered the state, said Ron Murphy, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Birmingham. Double Springs WINSTON Golf ball-sized hail reported WALKER Jasper Possible tornado destroys Oak Grove Fire Station Wind destroys mobile home BIBB Centreville down AZjr ) basement of their i I I - j home. H J c- S f y CLAY survives catastrophe v "rife'- -:.',,v ; v. - v:-- cx V ZZf-T - V mmm, i . f ,-c---A '. Kathy McGowen retrieves her her parents' house destroyed TORNADOES BY MONTH IN ALABAMA Most tornadoes hit Alabama in the spring when cold air from the north runs into warm, humid air in the south. A second wave hits the state when the weather cools in November and December. But tornadoes have been recorded every month since 1 950. 200 150 100 III III JFMAMJJASOND TORNADO DEATHS BY STATE Only one tornado death was recorded in Alabama in 1997 but the state is the fourth highest in the country in tornado deaths since 1950. 0 100 200 300 400 Texas pgrngWagnB'ni1'! Arkansas Alabama Michigan Indians Oklahoma gggffl Kansas Tennessee i Illinois STAFF Columbiana Clantol CHILTON ..r..., " DEKALB I MORGAN , ) , Guntersville J : GUZMAN ' bertA I ) I 1 1 vi , y Qullman Golf ball-Sized dkii o;,,j Q ; BLOUNT Gyden I : .L Vta A A LJ I Substantial X I Church . I ; haiet r, destroyed j xr"h S Tornado T JEFFERSOI ST.CLAIR ground : SN Birmmgport V I;" Pell City .-..'.- .oakGjy J Woman and two fV.,, K 0-oH 1 TnmadrTl sons killed while ( S'2'zJa lornaao c- inn 0uQuor in nail reported X family's possessions Thursday in Wednesday night's tornado. Storm's message clear, pastors say ASSOCIATED PRESS SYLVAN SPRINGS Titled "A Road to Nowhere," Pastor Billy Hobson's sermon was written to send a powerful message to the congregants at First Baptist Church of Sylvan Springs this Easter Sunday. On Thursday, as he surveyed the tornado damage in this small Birmingham suburb, his optimistic smile turned to tears when it hit him how much more poignant that message had become. "I see the people work two, three jobs and all that overtime so we can buy our $150,000 houses and our new cars," Hobson said. "And in one night, it's gone. That's a road to nowhere and, yes, I think you can say it relates to whatls happened here." The tornado, which claimed at least 32 lives and injured hundreds more, was the second this decade to hit Alabama during the holiest week on the Christian calendar. The Palm Sunday tornado of 1994 ripped through Goshen United Methodist Church at Piedmont, killing 20 people. Pastors in the dozens of churches lining the main highways in the path of the wreckage saw a connection between the holidays and the tornado, which hit late Wednesday as congregations on the biggest TALLADEGA COOSA Rockford ALVIN BENNSTAFF with her husband, Gary, from church nighf of the week were breaking up. The Open Door Church at Bir-mingport, sure to stand as the lasting symbol of this tornado's power, was almost completely demolished during rehersal for the congregation's Easter show. After the warning sirens sounded, church officials herded the 60 congregants into the inside hall of the building. It was the only room still standing after the tornado ripped through. "We were grouped up in that hall and we were praying, just praying for safety," said Phil Cur-rie, the church's minister of music. "When you look at what happened, that we all survived this, you've got to have faith in God. God spared us last night. That's a message I'll take with me to Easter." But more than praising the Lord, Steve Small, pastor of True Life Baptist Church in Pratt City, said he hoped people would take the storm as a symbol of God's power. "So much of the emphasis on Easter has been about spending big money, buying clothes and dressing up," Small said. "This gives us a little nudge. It makes you think what this holiday is really about. I've talked to people who have lost loved ones, and I guarantee you, the last thing on their mind is Easter shopping." CHEROKEE RANDOLPH Lineville Wedowee CHAMBERS TALLAPOOSA Alexander City Lafayette 10 20 Miles TORNADO ROUNDUP James to join Gore in tour of counties Gov. Fob James and members of Alabama's congressional delegation are among those expected to join Vice President Al Gore today as he tours the devastation in Jefferson and St. Clair counties. Gore is expected to arrive in Birmingham about 8 a.m. along with James Lee Witt, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Witt was in Alabama last month to tour the damage following floods in south Alabama. The group, including U.S. Sens. Richard Shelby, R-Tusca-loosa, and Jeff Session, R-Mo-bile, will tour the area by helicopter and then make a stop near the Jefferson County Sheriff s Department Mobile Command Center in Rock Creek. There the group will talk with rescue workers, families and local officials. President Clinton already has declared Jefferson, St. Clair and Tuscaloosa counties federal disaster areas. James, who visited the sites Thursday, also has declared a state of emergency. Many of the most damaged areas remained closed off Thursday night as the cleanup continued. Many of those whose homes were destroyed or damaged were staying at area emergency shelters. Three counties eligible for aid Three Alabama counties, ravaged by deadly tornadoes on Wednesday night, will receive federal assistance to aid in rebuilding efforts. Jefferson, St. Clair and Tuscaloosa counties were designated Thursday to receive aid by a declaration issued for the state by President Clinton. Last month, the state was also granted federal disaster aid after heavy rains created flooding in the southern end of the state. The assistance, to be coordinated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), can include grants to help pay for temporary housing, minor home repairs and other serious disaster-related expenses. Low interests loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration also will be available to cover residential and business losses not fully covered by insurance. Federal funds will also be provided for the state and the three counties' local governments to pay 75 percent of the eligible cost for the removal of debris and emergency services related to the disaster, said James Lee Witt, the director of FEMA. Mississippi teen killed in storm JACKSON, Miss. Storms that lashed much of Mississippi late Wednesday afternoon , claimed the life of a Pontotoc County teen-ager who officials say refused to seek shelter. In Pontotoc County, Coroner Barry Moorman said Richard Sills died near the Thaxton community when a suspected tornado destroyed a mobile home while he was inside. Moorman said the North Pontotoc High School student, his sister and another young woman were in the mobile home when heavy rains began to fall. He said the two girls went to Sills' grandparents' house nearby shortly before the tornado cut a path through the area about 6:45 p.m. "I think they tried to get him to leave and he wouldn't," Moorman said. "It (the mobile home) was completely shattered." Officials said there were no other reports of serious injuries. Weather warning system fails again HUNTSVILLE The National Weather Service's radio system for north Alabama failed for a second time as a powerful storm system moved through the state, affecting residents safety to the north of a tornado that killed at least 32 people. The glitch did not affect warnings to residents of the Birmingham area where a tornado struck Wednesday night, said Brian Peters, a meteorologist for the weather service in Bir- " mingham. New transmitters built by the weather service in the Tennessee Valley since 1994 are distorting the signal that activates the portable radios many area residents rely on for tornado warnings, Peters said. "We thought we had it corrected a few weeks ago. We're shocked that it's back this quickly," Peters said. PERRY From staff and wire reports Si

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