Two days before Severe Weather Awareness Week began in Alabama, a tornado raised Bill Lipscomb’s awareness — and the roof of his Autauga County home.”We saw our old chicken house coming toward the house, and we all ran and got in the bathroom. That’s when we saw the roof lift up,” Lipscomb, an Autauga Farmers Federation board member, was saying. “The French doors blew open, and shattered glass went flying through the house. Then we saw the sky, and the roof came back down. It was over in probably less than 10 seconds.”But it wasn’t over. Seconds later, and just three miles away, an EF-4 twister packing winds of up to 160 mph set down again. This time, it plowed into a Prattville neighborhood, damaging businesses and more than 800 homes, destroying another 150 homes and injuring at least 50 people.The Feb. 17 storm was one of 39 that swept across central and north Alabama that month, leaving five dead and breaking the 18-year-old state record of 11 February tornadoes. January wasn’t much better as 11 tornadoes were reported, including a pair that injured two people in Lamar County. By March 5, 52 tornadoes had struck Alabama in 2008.Less than two weeks earlier, on Feb. 6, an EF-4 tornado raked Lawrence County, cutting a path 17 miles long and killing a family of three and an elderly woman. “It was worse than you can imagine, total devastation in some places,” said Agent Roger Pierce. “One policyholder lost their house, their barn, all of their farm equipment, a cattle trailer. Some people lost everything. It was just total chaos.”In Jackson County, Alfa Agent Juley Phillips was huddled in the basement of her Flat Rock home, just miles from the path of a tornado that touched down at 5:17 a.m. Once the storm passed, she was out the door, ready to help her policyholders by 6:30 a.m.”The worst part was driving to my customers’ houses to check on them, to make sure they were alive,” she said. “Most of the damage was total, there was very little that could be repaired.”Alta Hughes, who chairs the Jackson County Farmers Federation Women’s Committee, said 17 members of her immediate family were affected, including five families whose homes were destroyed, along with another home heavily damaged and nine vehicles damaged or destroyed.”My sister had an Alfa check in her hand that very afternoon,” said Hughes. “I want to express my gratitude to the Alfa people for their concern, quick response and a sense of true caring in this disaster. People from all over the state called to see if we were OK.”Alfa Insurance dispatched additional claims adjusters to stricken areas after both storms, along with the company’s Mobile Response Units. Agents helped gather food, supplies and donations, and even served a hot lunch for victims and emergency workers.”We have been extremely pleased with our response to these storms,” said Alfa and Alabama Farmers Federation President Jerry A. Newby. “We have focused on paying our claims as quickly as possible to help these families who are hurting rebuild their lives.”As of March 5, Alfa had 1,085 claims from the Feb. 6 storms and 997 from the Feb. 17 storms.Members of the Lawrence County Farmers Federation were among the first to help. The group, with the help of the Lawrence County Exchange and Husqvarna, purchased 11 chain saws to aid in the cleanup. After the cleanup, one will be placed at each of the 11 fire departments in the county.”Many of our farmers worked for several days along with hundreds of volunteers to help people, some they didn’t even know,” said Area 1 Organization Director Tom Jones. “As soon as the storm passed, they began looking for trapped and injured people. Once the injured people were helped, our farmers brought their own equipment and chain saws to begin the cleanup. The storm really did bring out the best in our folks.”It also brought out the best in Autauga County where Lipscomb counts himself as “fortunate” although he lost four outbuildings, a camper trailer and an off-road mini-truck. Most likely, he said, his home is so structurally unsound that it’ll have to be torn down.”We feel blessed that nobody got killed or injured — we are just more or less inconvenienced,” said Lipscomb whose family is now living in his sister’s motor home and will likely remain there until their home is rebuilt. “We had a lot of friends and neighbors come over and help us clean up. We had a youth group from First United Methodist in Prattville, close to 40 kids, out there on Monday. By Tuesday, it looked like a different place.””I’ve been wanting to clean up around that old chicken house for 10 years,” Lipscomb said. “We finally got ‘er done.” This article contains additional reporting by Amy Presley of Alfa Insurance’s Journal staff and Debra Davis.
Deadly Tornadoes Hammer Alabama On Way To Record