Tornadoes hit Alabama as storms pass in area

A Military Assistance to Safety and Traffic helicopter from Fort Rucker awaits victims for transport outside Enterprise High School in Enterprise, Ala., Thursday. An apparent tornado struck the high school. The Associated Press

AP

A Military Assistance to Safety and Traffic helicopter from Fort Rucker awaits victims for transport outside Enterprise High School in Enterprise, Ala., Thursday. An apparent tornado struck the high school. The Associated Press

By The Associated Press

Apparent tornadoes roared across Alabama Thursday and killed at least 13 people, including eight at a high school where students were trapped under a collapsed roof, state officials said.

State Emergency Management Agency spokeswoman Yasamie Richardson said eight fatalities “are in relation to the high school but whether they are all students or some students and teachers we’re not sure.”

House Speaker Seth Hammett, at the statehouse in Montgomery, announced that five people had died at Miller’s Ferry, where another apparent tornado tore into mobile homes.

More than 40 people were brought in to an Enterprise hospital, and damaged homes and one death were reported in west Alabama as a violent storm front crossed the state.

The same system was blamed for a tornado that killed a 7-year-old girl in Missouri, damaging homes and businesses Thursday.

Enterprise High School “appears to have been right in the path,” said Paul Duval, meteorologist with National Weather Service in Tallahassee, Fla., which monitors southeast Alabama.

“There are injuries both in downtown Enterprise and the high school,” he said.

Toni Kaminski, a spokeswoman for Medical Center Enterprise, which also received storm damage, said about 45 patients were brought in, including some from the high school.

The injuries were mostly cuts and stress-related, and none was life-threatening, officials said.

Martha Rodriquez, a 15-year-old sophomore, said she had left the school about five minutes before the storm hit.

When she returned, a hall at the school had collapsed, she said. She did not know if anyone was hurt.

“The stadium was destroyed and there were cars tipped over in the parking lot and trees were ripped out. There were trees and wood everywhere. It was just horrible,” she said.

In Missouri, Howell County Sheriff Robbie Crites identified the young victim as Elizabeth Croney. Her mother, father and two brothers were injured when a tornado hit their mobile home in a rural wooded area near West Plains, Crites said.

In Caulfield, Rick Jarvis heard the storm ripping through his gas station around dawn.

His home next door suffered just minor damage, but the twister, described by witnesses as a fat black column, shredded the business, ripping down its roof and back wall.

“It sounded like a herd of horses tearing up stuff. When I came out, it was done,” said Jarvis, 48.

It took paramedics about an hour to reach the home, and they had to use chain saws to cut through wooded debris blocking the road, Crites said.

At least four mobile homes, two houses and two service stations in nearby Caulfield were damaged when the twisters hit around 6:30 a.m., and a tornado also touched down near an elementary school in Caulfield. Two more tornadoes were also reported in the area, said Mike Wade, a dispatcher at the Howell County Sheriff’s Office.

The burst of tornadoes was part of a larger line of thunderstorm and snowstorms that stretched from Minnesota to Louisiana.

Several school systems across Alabama closed or dismissed students early Thursday as the storm front approached from the west, extending the length of the state.

“The clouds were so dark that all the lights out here came on,” said Walter Thornton, who works at Enterprise Municipal Airport.

At Miller’s Ferry in west Alabama, trailer homes were flipped over and trees downed by a storm that caused “extensive damage,” said Bernadine Williams in the Wilcox County Emergency Management Agency office. She did not know if there were any injuries.

In Kansas’ Linn County, along the Missouri state line, a tornado Wednesday night destroyed a power substation, and roofs and siding were torn from buildings, Linn County Emergency Management Director David Yates said.