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October 25, 2010

'It's just gone'

Downtown Cullman slammed by overnight storm

CULLMAN — When the call came in a little before 4 a.m. Monday morning, Village Furniture owner Perry Warren knew it wasn’t good news.

“I heard the tornado sirens going off at about 3:15 a.m., then the phone rang 20 minutes later,” he said. “When the phone rings between 11 p.m. at night and 4 a.m. in the morning at my house, I knew something was wrong.”

Warren’s shop was one of many downtown storefronts wrecked Monday night by a severe thunderstorm, which blew off roofs and burst windows in at least half a dozen buildings around Third Street SW and Third Avenue SE.

Along with roof damage, two windows imploded at Warren’s store — frames, bricks and all — into an upstairs showroom, and downstairs windows were shattered.

“The clock was on the floor, stopped at 3:12 a.m., so that must’ve been when it hit,” he said. “The roof was peeled back and there was glass just everywhere. On the back of my building, it’s just gone.”

Debris and downed limbs were scattered all around downtown in the early morning hours, and businesses such as Carlton’s Italian, Hagan Real Estate and the Office Equipment Company were hit with roof and window damage.

“We had probably a dozen or so roads with trees downed, so we blocked the streets off to keep traffic from running into trees,” city street supervisor Rick Henry said. “By [Monday afternoon] we had all the roads opened up, but we’ll be moving debris well into Tuesday, probably. All the stuff that was done, it was a real joint effort by the departments of the city.”

The nearby Sacred Heart Catholic Church on Second Street SE, a downtown staple for nearly 100 years, escaped the storm relatively unscathed — with only some downed trees on the property.

“Thank goodness it wasn’t any worse,” church manager Phil Frappaolo said. “We only had these trees knocked down on the side.”

The St. Vincent De Paul food bank, located across the street from the cathedral, was not so lucky.

“We had one window busted out, and the other ones were damaged by the suction when it pulled it out,” food bank volunteer Sue Kaucher said. “We also had some roof damage, and I think someone else’s roof is on our roof, too.”

Though damage was significant among those few downtown blocks, Cullman Emergency Management Agency Director Phyllis Little said the storm appeared to be focused on just that narrow window the city.

“We got either a microburst, or straight line wind damage, from those thunderstorms that moved through,” she said. “The most significant damage was around Village Furniture, and there were reports of some scattered trees down around the county. But, that was all that has been reported to us.”

The National Weather Service reported between one and two inches of rain in Cullman County, with winds estimated at around 60-miles-per-hour. The NWS has also not ruled out the possibility of a small tornado.

“We had at least 60-miles-per-hour winds, maybe stronger than that,” forecaster Kurt Weber said. “We won’t know for sure until a full survey is done in the next day or two. It is undetermined if it was a tornado, and a survey team would have to decide that.”

The storm did not create any major power outages, as the Cullman Electric Cooperative reported only 1,300 customers out during peak storm hours. Power was back on at most households by Monday afternoon.

“There were some downed lines and things like that from the wind,” co-op spokesperson Brian Lacy said. “They were pretty widespread and scattered, but heavier in the northeast portion of Cullman County.”

Though the damage was bad, Little said Monday night’s storm could just be a precursor for what’s to come, as the NWS is predicting another round of storms today and tonight.

“We’re just trying to get prepared for what else could be on the way,” she said.

‰ Trent Moore can be reached by e-mail at trentm@cullmantimes.com, or by telephone at 734-2131, ext. 220.

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