A devastating day: Tornadoes rip through Shelby County

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Managing Editor

Standing in his living room with no walls and debris covering what used to be a driveway to his right, a man looks out a windowless back wall in the Eagle Point neighborhood to houses ripped apart around him.

That was just one of many examples of the devastation to strike Shelby County on Thursday, March 25.

A day that saw two violent, long-track tornadoes rip through the county has left many homes and businesses damaged, if not destroyed, while also uprooting the livelihood of many.

The first tornado, which has yet to be categorized, started in the northwestern portion of Shelby County, leaving a path of damage through Helena, Pelham, Alabama 119, the campus of Indian Springs School, Eagle Point, U.S. 280, Greystone and Shoal Creek before making its way out of the county and eventually as far as Georgia.

Then, four hours later around 5:30 p.m., another strong tornado made its way through Calera, Columbiana and Wilsonville, leaving a devastating path through several areas.

Some of the areas hardest hit included the Timberline neighborhood in Calera, a stretch between Cedar Lane, Mooney Road and Egg and Butter Road in Columbiana and a trailer park near the town of Wilsonville.

“Today was a tragic day for Shelby County. We are here to support all of our citizens and the many other Shelby County municipalities who were also severely impacted by the storms,” said Shelby County Sheriff John Samaniego. “In the aftermath of these storms, we have seen the best of Shelby County. Neighbors helping neighbors. Businesses and kind citizens reaching out with donations of food and supplies. We will continue to canvass the county throughout the night to provide assistance as needed.”

First responders were challenged throughout the afternoon, but quickly responded to both storms to do sweeps and check for possible fatalities or residents trapped in their homes.

“Deputies from the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office responded to several areas in the northern part of Shelby County after the first storm and the Columbiana area after the second storm,” read a release from the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office following the tragic day. “Deputies assisted other first responders in conducting a primary and secondary search for citizens who may have been trapped in their homes.”

The Shelby County Reporter was made aware of two people being rescued from trapped homes, one in the Eagle Point neighborhood and one from a trailer park in Wilsonville. There were also two serious reported injuries from that same trailer park.

As of 10 p.m. on Thursday, there were no fatalities reported, but first responders were still checking on areas of the county.

“At this time, no fatalities have been reported in the unincorporated areas of Shelby County; however, many residents have been displaced from their homes due to the damage caused by the storms,” said the Sheriff’s Office.

Officials in Pelham said approximately 60 homes or structures were damaged in the city, while the Helena Police Department reported 16 homes and five or six businesses damaged.

“I am thankful our residents are safe after this afternoon’s storm that hit Helena,” Helena Mayor Brian Puckett said. “There was significant damage to homes and businesses but no injuries. For that, I am truly grateful. Roads can be cleared, downed trees can be removed and homes fixed up. Together, as a community, we will be able to reach every person in need.”

It’s unclear how many homes and businesses along Alabama 119 from the northern storm were damaged after leaving those two cities, but several homes in the Eagle Point neighborhood received major damage as did other areas in north Shelby County all the way across U.S. 280 over Oak Mountain and across Shelby County 41.

There were also several homes damaged in Timberline in Calera as well as severe damage in south Columbiana and into Wilsonville, but how many structures have been damaged is unclear.

Several businesses, restaurants and others are offering help tonight and over the weekend for those who were impacted by the storms.

While officials have asked for residents to stay off the roads near damaged areas to let first responders continue to clear debris and do their jobs, checking with your city on how you can help is also encouraged.

Several communities are coming together in support to help their neighbors across the damaged areas.

If you have been displaced by the storms, you may contact the American Red Cross at 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) for assistance.