2 weeks ago

Searches to resume after tornado kills 23 in Lee County

Rescuers prepared Monday to tear through the rubble of mobile homes and houses in search of survivors of a powerful tornado that rampaged through southeast Alabama and killed at least 23 people.

The trail of destruction was at least half a mile wide and overwhelmed rural Lee County’s coroners’ office, forcing it to call in help from the state.“The devastation is incredible,” Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones said.

Drones flying overhead equipped with heat-seeking devices had scanned the area for survivors, but the dangerous conditions halted the search late Sunday, Sheriff Jones said.

Rescuers planned to resume the search at daylight Monday.

The Sunday tornado, which had winds that appeared to be around 160 mph (257 kph) or greater, was part of a powerful storm system that also slashed its way across parts of Georgia, South Carolina and Florida.

Levi Baker, who lives near the hard-hit area in Alabama, took a chain saw to help clear a path for ambulances and other first-responder vehicles.

He said he saw bodies of dead people and dead animals.

He said some houses were demolished and trees were uprooted or snapped in half.

One house was swept off its foundation and was sitting in the middle of the road.

“It was just destruction,” Baker said. “There were mobile homes gone. Frames on the other side of the road.”

Jones said the twister traveled straight down a county road in the rural community of Beauregard reducing homes to slabs.

Scott Fillmer was at home when the storm hit in Lee County.

“I looked out the window and it was nothing but black, but you could hear that freight train noise,” Fillmer said.

The National Weather Service confirmed late Sunday a tornado with at least an F3 rating caused the destruction in Alabama.

Although the statement did not give exact wind estimates, F3 storms typically are gauged at wind speeds of between 158-206 mph (254-331 kph).

After nightfall Sunday, the rain had stopped and pieces of metal debris and tree branches littered roadways in Beauregard.

Two sheriff’s vehicles blocked reporters and others from reaching the worst-hit area. Power appeared to be out in many places.

In a tweet late Sunday, President Donald Trump said, “To the great people of Alabama and surrounding areas: Please be careful and safe. Tornadoes and storms were truly violent and more could be coming. To the families and friends of the victims, and to the injured, God bless you all!”

Rita Smith, spokeswoman for the Lee County Emergency Management Agency, said about 150 first responders had quickly jumped in to help search the debris after the storm struck in Beauregard. At least one trained canine could be seen with search crews as numerous ambulances and emergency vehicles, lights flashing, converged on the area.

At the R&D Grocery on Monday morning in Beauregard, residents were constantly asking each other if they were okay.

“I’m still thanking God I’m among the living,” said John Jones, who has lived in Beauregard for most of his life.

No deaths had been reported Sunday evening from storm-damaged Alabama counties other than Lee County, said Gregory Robinson, spokesman for the Alabama Emergency Management Agency.

But he said crews were still surveying damage in several counties in the southwestern part of the state.

Numerous tornado warnings were posted across parts of Alabama, Georgia, Florida and South Carolina on Sunday afternoon as the storm system raced across the region.

Weather officials said they confirmed other tornadoes around the region by radar alone and would send teams out Monday to assess those and other storms.

In rural Talbotton, Georgia, about 80 miles (130 kilometers) south of Atlanta, a handful of people were injured by either powerful straight-line winds or a tornado that destroyed several mobile homes and damaged other buildings, said Leigh Ann Erenheim, director of the Talbot County Emergency Management Agency.

News footage showed smashed buildings with rooftops blown away, cars overturned and debris everywhere. Trees all around had been snapped bare of branches.

“The last check I had was between six and eight injuries,” Erenheim said in a phone interview. “From what I understand it was minor injuries, though one fellow did say his leg might be broken.”

She said searches of damaged homes and structures had turned up no serious injuries or deaths there.

Henry Wilson of the Peach County Emergency Management Agency near Macon in central Georgia said a barn had been destroyed and trees and power poles had been snapped, leaving many in the area without power.

Authorities in southwest Georgia were searching door-to-door in darkened neighborhoods after a possible tornado touched down in the rural city of Cairo, about 33 miles (53 kilometers) north of Tallahassee, Florida, on Sunday evening. There were no immediate reports of serious injuries.

Authorities said a tornado was confirmed by radar in the Florida Panhandle late Sunday afternoon.

A portion of Interstate 10 on the Panhandle was blocked in one direction for a time in Walton County in the aftermath, said Don Harrigan, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Tallahassee.
(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

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2 mins ago

Groups across US take in dogs, cats after Alabama tornado

People across the nation are helping to find homes for animals evacuated from shelters in an Alabama community that was devastated by a tornado.

The twister left 23 dead and dozens of people injured as it roared across the community of Beauregard on March 3.

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The Humane Society of the United States contacted several humane societies across the nation to ask for help, Al.com reported.

The Oregon Humane Society says it was asked by the national organization if it could take any of the 150 pets that were being evacuated from Lee County shelters.

In Tennessee, the Nashville Humane Association says it received 21 cats and dogs affected by the tornado. It said those animals will be up for adoption soon.

“They have been through a lot,” said Laura Charvarria , executive director of the Nashville Humane Association.

“One of the shelters, Southern Souls, the tornado touched down actually in their backyard, so they experienced that, on top of, they just went through a 6-hour drive from Alabama to Tennessee, so that is extremely stressful on the animals,” Charvarria said.

Many of the animals from Alabama were flown on a jet to Oregon about a week after the tornado.

Staffers from animal shelters in that region met the dogs and cats when they touched down.

“There was a great camaraderie among the group 7/8— a wonderful testament to the collective compassion in the Northwest.

As the plane touched down the group erupted in applause,” the Oregon Humane Society said in a news release.
(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

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1 hour ago

Failed state House candidate wants to challenge gas tax in court

Former candidate for state House and Republican Executive Committee anti-tax resolution sponsor, Tom Fredricks, is preparing a legal challenge on the Rebuild Alabama Act based on the perceived unconstitutional nature of the Port of Mobile dredging.

When the Rebuild Alabama gas tax increase was being debated, for all of five days, opponents were throwing everything they could at the gas tax.

All of this was for naught as the bill passed both chambers of the legislature and was signed by the governor. Your gas tax will go up over the next three years.

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The state Republican Party Executive Committee went as far as opposing the gas tax with a resolution at their winter meeting. The committee rightly argued very few politicians ran on raising taxes. In fact, many opposed tax increases or ran on keeping taxes low.

Foes of the tax, yours truly included, felt the use of the special session was a nefarious work-around the legislative process.

Lastly, a small group of insurgents pushed the ingenious argument that the portion of the law spending millions of dollars every year on dredging for the Port of Mobile was unconstitutional.

And now, the opponents of this gas tax are moving on to the next level of the battle: the courts

Fredricks appeared Monday on “The Dale Jackson Show” on WVNN in Huntsville to lay out his legal strategy.

“It appears that it’s in direct violation of Amendment 354 … the constitution says that that money shall be used on the construction and maintenance of roads and bridges,” he outlined.

Fredricks has even launched a GoFundMe page to fund this endeavor after one lawyer told him he would need $25,000 to pursue this challenge.

But, former Senator Paul Sanford (R-Huntsville), an anti-tax advocate, believes this is a non-starter after initially thinking there would be an issue in battling the tax increase.

Sanford posted his findings on Facebook.

Fredricks himself believes this is a long-shot, but stated that he believes the people of this state need to continue having a voice on this issue.

Listen:

Dale Jackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a talk show from 7-11 am weekdays on WVNN

Byrne: Supporting state and local government

Last week, I was honored to host some of our local mayors, city council members and city officials from Southwest Alabama in Washington to hear about what they do every day for our communities.

I am a firm believer that the best people to run our towns and our communities are not the bureaucrats in Washington or the federal government. The best people to do that are the people who live, work, and play in the same place as the neighbors they represent. That is why I come home to Southwest Alabama every weekend, to be in touch with the people I serve in Washington.

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Everyone wants a great quality of life. Part of that comes down to having good roads and bridges, having high-quality schools, knowing that the fire department, police, EMS and other first responders will be there when we call, and countless other things that happen on a local level.

The federal government is not the best place to regulate those things. Heavy-handed government mandates and rules that impose “we know best” policies on our local communities don’t work. What works in Robertsdale, Brewton or Chatom might not work in Nashville, Boston or Anchorage.

One of the things that has always worked best is to have a strong partnership between our local, state and federal officials. My mission has always been to assist our local leaders on projects when they need our help, but it is not my place to tell our local mayors how to do their job or what will be best for their community. I want to be a part of their team.

This teamwork approach has worked incredibly well when it comes to bringing new jobs to our area. When a prospective business is looking at locating in a new place, they want to know that officials at every level of government are willing to work with them to support their business and their employees.

A good example of this is saving our rural hospitals. In most places, these hospitals are the bedrock of a community. No major business will locate in a town that doesn’t have a hospital. So, that’s why I have been working with our local and state officials to do everything in my power to save our rural hospitals from closing. But, this requires a total team approach from all levels of government.

Another prime example of giving more power back to the local level is Alabama’s Red Snapper recreational fishing season.

In years past, the federal government has put stringent regulations on Gulf Coast fishing that has ended up hurting local fishermen. Those of us in Alabama best understand Alabama issues, and after years of continuous advocating, this year we received great news that the 2019 Red Snapper season for recreational fishermen will take place on three-day weekends (Friday-Sunday) from June 1st through July 28th, including July 4th.

As I have said repeatedly, this issue is about more than just fishing. A full Red Snapper season helps boost our coastal economies due to everything from fuel sales to hotel and condo rentals. We must continue pushing for greater state control over our fisheries.

Fixing our Red Snapper season wasn’t done by just one person. From the city councils to the state Department of Conservation to the halls of Congress, it took a total team effort to make a positive impact for our residents.

As long as I have the honor of representing Alabama, I promise to always be a part of the team to make life better for people in our communities. I am dedicated to doing what is best for Alabama through policies that give back to, not take from, our communities.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.

Leaders deliver results for a stronger Alabama

Thank you to the Alabama House of Representatives and the Alabama Senate for your bi-partisan support of the Rebuild Alabama Plan. Because of your leadership, this historical effort will result in safer roads, thousands of new jobs, and a stronger Alabama.  Finally, it’s time to #RebuildAL.

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6 hours ago

Shelby County seeking more workers

The county with Alabama’s lowest unemployment rate is in need of more workers.

WBRC-TV reports that employers in Shelby County just south of Birmingham are having trouble filling some jobs.

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The county of more than 210,000 people has the lowest jobless rate in the state at 3.2 percent, and “help wanted” signs are a frequent site outside some businesses.

The Shelby County Chamber of Commerce says employers are constantly looking for qualified welders, forklift operators and information technology assistants.

The head of the chamber, Kirk Mancer, says the organization is working with schools and training partners on specific programs to help develop future workers.
(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

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