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Alabama tornado: Crews search for survivors after EF-3 twister demolished homes, killing 1 in Fultondale and injuring dozens

CNN logo CNN 1/27/2021 By Joe Sutton, Holly Yan and Tina Burnside, CNN
a person standing in a kitchen preparing food: Patti Herring walks through the remains of her home in Fultondale on Tuesday morning. © Jay Reeves/AP Patti Herring walks through the remains of her home in Fultondale on Tuesday morning.

What used to be homes are now mangled piles of debris, with personal belongings strewn across lawns and streets.

That's the new reality near Birmingham, Alabama, after a "large and extremely dangerous" tornado late Monday night annihilated parts of Jefferson County.

The storm killed at least one person and injured dozens more, officials said. The twister also ripped a hotel apart and tore off part of a church's roof.

About 30 people in Fultondale were injured, the city's fire chief said Tuesday.

"Seventeen patients were tak(en) to the ER, with various injuries and some critical," Fire Chief Justin McKenzie said. At least 11 people were treated on the scene.

A young man, possibly a teen, was killed when he was trapped in the basement of his home, Fultondale Police Chief D.P. Smith said, according to AL.com.

Several of his family members were critically injured, Smith said.

The family had taken shelter in the basement, but apparently a tree fell on the house and caused the home to collapse.

"They were doing what they were supposed to be doing," the police chief said, according to AL.com.

Jefferson County Schools Superintendent Walter Gonsoulin said a ninth-grade student at Fultondale High School was killed in the tornado. He was 14.

"Out of respect for the family, we don't want to release too much information at this particular time," Gonsoulin said.

The superintendent said the storm caused significant damage to Fultondale High School, forcing it to close for the rest of the school year.

The tornado that struck Fultondale was an EF-3 with peak winds estimated at 150 mph, according to the National Weather Service. It was 500 yards across and traveled 9.5 miles.

Six people trapped in their homes were rescued Tuesday morning, McKenzie said.

Rescue teams are still sifting through a hotel that collapsed overnight after most primary structures were cleared out, the fire chief said.

The tornado spawned from a line of storms among two large systems that have put more than 100 million people under winter weather alerts.

Tornado warnings and watches have expired in parts of Alabama and Georgia. But the same storm system is now expected to dump snow in states farther north.

'All of a sudden, the windows blew out in my room'

Parts of the Hampton Inn in Fultondale were obliterated, video from CNN affiliate WVTM shows.

Hotel guest Richard Ring was watching TV when rumblings from the storm drowned out the program's sound, he told WVTM.

He went to the bathroom and crawled under the sink.

"All of a sudden, the windows blew out in my room," Ring said. "The lights went out. And the sirens shrieked. And it was just surreal."

Guests staying at the hotel escaped and sought shelter in a nearby restaurant when another line of storms came through, WVTM reported.

About 9,000 people live in Fultondale, just north of Birmingham.

'We will have a long day ahead'

At 10:54 p.m. local time Monday, the National Weather Service Birmingham "confirmed large and extremely dangerous tornado was located over Chalkville, or near Trussville, moving east at 50 mph."

Early Tuesday morning, the NWS Birmingham tweeted it "will inspect the damage to determine the strength of the tornado" that impacted the Fultondale area.

The city of Center Point, about 13 miles northeast of Birmingham, also saw "quite a bit of damage" from the storm, Mayor Bobby Scott told CNN affiliate WBRC. About 16,000 people live there.

The back half of Hilldale Baptist Church's roof is missing, and the city's recreation center also suffered damage, Scott said.

"Looks like we will have a long day ahead," Scott said. "Hopefully we can get everything covered up."

There was a bit of good news, the mayor said: "We don't have any injuries to report right now, so we're definitely grateful for that."

The Jefferson County Emergency Management Agency urged people to stay out of the area as first responders try to reach the most damaged sites.

"On top of road dangers such as power lines and debris ... traffic is clogging the roads," the agency tweeted.

Eleven schools in the area will be closed for in-person and virtual learning Tuesday following the storm, the Jefferson County EMA tweeted.

Storm system expected to dump snow in other states

A tornado warning was issued Monday night for Jefferson County, Alabama, NWS Birmingham tweeted. The agency later issued tornado warnings and watches for several counties as the line of storms moved northeast through the state.

The storm system is now expected to dump significant snow from the Central Plains to the mid-Atlantic Coast through Tuesday night.

The deepest snow will pile up across Iowa. Some snow will be very heavy, with rates of up to 2 inches an hour, the Weather Prediction Center said.

a pile of wood: Multiple homes were destroyed by a tornado in Fultondale, Alabama.

Multiple homes were destroyed by a tornado in Fultondale, Alabama.
© Jay Reeves/AP
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