By David Palmer
The Cullman Times
A reported tornado and straight-line winds left an expansive path of damage through northeast Cullman County Monday night.
Emergency responders from across the area were called upon to check for injured residents, free others from their homes and to clear fallen trees from roadways after the storm descended on the area around 10 p.m. While reports were coming from many sources throughout the night, some of the heaviest damage was in Berlin and the Gold Ridge community. Cullman County sheriff’s deputies reported a tornado on the ground in those communities.
Compounding issues for emergency workers was a power outage affecting at least 1,800 residences in the county, ranging from south Cullman County to the northeast corner.
Cullman County Electric Cooperative linemen were beginning repairs as the weather conditions began to settle somewhat across the county. By 4 a.m., Coop spokesman Brian Lacy said all crews would be heading out to finish restoring power.
Several tornado warnings were issued throughout the night, the final one becoming the most dangerous. By 11 p.m. officials still did not have reports of serious injuries.
Cullman County Sheriff’s Office deputies were dispatched throughout the northeast side of the county and were assisted by Cullman police officers. Several volunteer fire departments were on hand and calls could be heard over emergency scanners for equipment to remove large trees from roads and houses.
Cullman Police Chief Kenny Culpepper said U.S. Highway 278 was blocked in Berlin. He said other roads were blocked in the area, creating a potentially dangerous situation for motorists.
Officials said even as daylight hours arrive, mobility may be difficult in various area east of Cullman.
Cullman County Emergency Management Agency director Phyllis Little said the area is expected to face similar weather conditions and dangers this evening. She had cautioned earlier that dangerous weather could continue through Wednesday morning.
Warm temperatures and a high dew point helped fuel the storm as it lumbered into Alabama. A massive tornado touched down in Tupelo, Miss., during daylight hours and caused extensive damage. That same destructive weather system roared into Alabama and gathered momentum, passing through the Shoals area and turing east into Limestone County.
At least nine deaths were being reported from severe storms blowing through the South, but the toll could rise.
In Mississippi, officials said up to seven people had been killed. State Director of Health Protection Jim Craig said Monday night that officials are working with coroners to confirm the total.
In north Alabama, Limestone County Emergency Director Rita White said the coroner’s office had confirmed two deaths in a twister that caused extensive damage west of the city of Athens. White says still more victims might be trapped in the wreckage of damaged buildings, but rescuers can’t reach some areas because of downed power lines. Separately, Limestone Commissioner Bill Latimer says he has reports from a worker of at least four deaths in the county.
One report heard on emergency scanner frequencies stated that a mobile home on County Road 747 was apparently missing. The mobile home was later located but there were no reports of residents still inside the structure.
Cullman County Sheriff Mike Rainey said damage was extensive in Berlin and Gold Ridge.
“You can tell there’s a lot of damage. It’s just a mess. At this time we still don’t have reports of serious injuries. But people need to be careful. We don’t know which power lines are live or not and trees are down everywhere,” Rainey said.
Rainey said deputies and other emergency personnel would be working well into the morning hours.
Damage was also reported in Holly Pond, Fairview, Baileyton, Johnsons Crossing and Welti.
EMA and Cullman Jefferson Gas were also dealing with a gas leak late at night.
Across the state, Alabama Power Co. says about 20,100 homes and businesses lost electricity in central and western Alabama as severe weather including tornadoes struck Monday.
Huntsville Utilities says about 4,200 homes and businesses were in the dark to the north in the Tennessee Valley. Falling trees pulled down electrical lines in areas including Limestone County
More reports on damage and potential injuries will be provided today. Updates on approaching weather conditions will also be posted to www.cullmantimes.com throughout the day.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
David Palmer may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 256-734-2131, ext. 116.