Emergency crews continue to remove debris and conduct additional search and rescue efforts after a tornado ripped through a suburban area north of Birmingham, Ala., leaving at least one dead and dozens more injured.
Survey crews assessing the storm damage found that preliminary estimates indicate the tornado was at least a high-end EF-2 tornado, with winds up to 135 miles per hour, the National Weather Service in Birmingham said Tuesday afternoon.
STORM SURVEY UPDATE: NWS Survey Crews have found at least High-End EF-2 Tornado Damage (135mph winds) in Fultondale, primarily north of Walker Chapel Road NE to US Highway 31 and to New Castle Road. This is still PRELIMINARY and surveys remain ongoing. #alwx— NWS Birmingham (@NWSBirmingham) January 26, 2021
Hours earlier NWS Birmingham described the tornado as "large, extremely dangerous and potentially deadly" in an alert just before 11 p.m. Monday.
Photos and video posted to social media show just how widespread the damage is: once-wooded areas along streets were nearly entirely razed, leaving behind jagged trees, twisted metal and homes damaged to the point of being uninhabitable.
Picture shared by @spann...Wow...Always have a weather radio, alert App, and plan before going to bed with severe weather pending...DO NOT rely on sirens. They are designed for alerting you outdoors. From tornadic storms in the Birmingham area last night pic.twitter.com/e1ommzL0V8— Marshall Shepherd (@DrShepherd2013) January 26, 2021
The brunt of the twister's damage was sustained in the city of Fultondale, where other destruction included part of a hotel roof being ripped off and a local high school demolished.
The city's mayor Larry Holcomb told Al.com the tornado left in its wake a quarter-mile-wide gash after touching down near Interstate 65 at approximately 10:30 p.m. Monday local time.
Raw video of the horrific damage from last night’s tornado on New Castle Road here in Fultondale, Alabama. Homes and cars destroyed, families displaced, work underway to ensure people are ok, recover property and begin the cleanup process. Devastating scene. pic.twitter.com/1l45hUMyzK— Connor Sheets (@ConnorASheets) January 26, 2021
Fultondale Fire Chief Justin McKenzie said at a Tuesday morning press conference there were 30 people injured that rescue crews had accounted for so far. An additional six people had been rescued, all of whom were trapped, but uninjured he said.
McKenzie added that some people who had been displaced from the damaged hotel were transported to the civic center in nearby Gardendale. Others were able to get to their vehicles and head to other hotels.
A sad sight in Fultondale this morning. pic.twitter.com/F8Isakknh2— Janae Pierre (@missjanaepierre) January 26, 2021
Jefferson County Coroner Bill Yates confirmed there was one fatality related to the tornado. He did not provide any additional details, but vowed to release more information as the day progressed, according to NPR Birmingham member station WBHM.
"I am going to wait to see what the rest of the day brings us in Fultondale, and do a tornado release late this afternoon," Yates said to WBHM.
Other officials confirmed to the station the person who died was a 9th grader in the county's school system. His name has not yet been released. The station reports the boy was sheltering with his family in the basement when a tree fell on their home. Several other family members were also injured.
"From what I understand they were in the basement and a tree fell and injured the father," Jefferson County Commissioner Joe Knight said Tuesday. "They did what they were supposed to do, but even in those situations sometimes ... that just happens."
McKenzie, the fire chief, added that devastating storms in this part of the country are a way of life.
"Sadly here in Fultondale we're very experienced in this sort of thing," referencing the April 27, 2011, tornado outbreak that was responsible for more than 200 fatalities in Alabama - and even more across several other states.
"We knew exactly what to do, how to do it and when to do it. We just don't like to do it," McKenzie said.
Alabama's Gov. Kay Ivey tweeted a message of support for Fultondale.
"The people of Fultondale took a hard hit last night — I'm grieved over the loss of life, injuries, homes & damaged businesses. I offer my prayers & deepest sympathies & pledge the full support & resources our state has to offer. I am with you, Fultondale!"
The people of Fultondale took a hard hit last night — I’m grieved over the loss of life, injuries, homes & damaged businesses. I offer my prayers & deepest sympathies & pledge the full support & resources our state has to offer. I am with you, Fultondale! #alwx #alpolitics— Governor Kay Ivey (@GovernorKayIvey) January 26, 2021