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Hartselle Enquirer

Hulaco devastated by EF4 tornado

The couple that lived at this Blocker Road residence found only their mailbox standing when they returned home after a EF4 tornado cut a path through the Hulaco community Wednesday afternoon. | Clif Knight

Storm levels homes, uproots trees, knocks out power, leaves families in need of shelter, food

An EF4 tornado struck the Hulaco Commuiity with devastating force Wednesday afternoon, destroying or heavily damaging over 50 homes, leveling thousands of trees and telephone poles and scattering personal belongings over a path five miles long and a half-mile wide.

Fortunately, there were no fatalities reported and only one person sustained injuries requiring medical treatment at a hospital.

Morgan County Chief Deputy Sheriff Mike Corley said a man who lives southwest of Hulaco in Cullman County was rescued from the rubble of his house and taken to a hospital and treated for lacerations and a broken leg. Many other people barely escaped injury or possibly death.

“A Morgan County sheriff’s deputy drove by and hollered for us to get out and find a safe place,” said Bryette Linuel, owner of Whitley’s Deli & Grocery. “My helper and I jumped in my truck and headed south on Highway 67. By the time we reached the Highway 65 and 67 intersection about two miles away, the storm had passed. But it took us an hour to work our way back to the store because of all the trees in the roads.”

The storm ripped off her store’s canopy and hurled it across the road. A beer can was hurled through a front window and the roof was damaged.

“I’m thankful I’ve been able to keep the store open with the help of a gas generator,” she said. “It has been a convenience to my customers and neighbors who need gas for their vehicles as well as generators and chain saws. “I’m not gouging people, either. I’ve kept by regular gas at $3.69 a gallon even though the wholesale price has increased.”

“It was terrible,” said Mildred Humphries who rode out the tornado with her homebound husband in the hallway of their house. “When we heard a storm had been spotted over Eva, we went into the hall and covered ourselves with blankets and pillows. I heard two tornadoes, one behind the other. I know there were two because I remembered how a tornado sounds from having gone through one in Cullman County in 1974.”

Jeff Albright, his wife, one of their daughters and son-in-law were in a closet and bathroom when the storm passed overhead. A two-story section of their 2-year-old home was ripped apart and the remainder of the house was moved off its foundation.

“We don’t know at this point if the house can be salvaged,” said Hannah Albright, a daughter who attends the University of North Alabama. “It’ll be up to the insurance adjuster. My parents house burned to the ground two years ago.”

Some of the worst damage occurred 200 yards from the Albright home on Blocker Private Drive. A mobile home, a single story frame house and a two-story frame house, all belonging to Blocker families, were ripped from their foundations and torn to bits and pieces.

Seven members of the three families owe their lives to a family dinner that was taking place at Ruth Blocker’s home when the storm hit.

“We saw the storm coming and ran to a middle room,” said Angel Blocker, a granddaughter. “Some of the children were playing in the yard and got inside just in time. “You can see from the devastation that none of us would’ve survived if we had been in our homes.

“That’s where my mobile home was,” she added pointing to a bare spot on the ground.

“That’s where it is now, or what’s left of it,” she said pointing to a pile of rubble about 100 feet away. “My sister, Samantha, lived next to me and our parents, Perry and Patricia Blocker lived at the end the drive.

“We’ve picked around in what’s left and have found very little,” said Blocker. “Most of it is scattered through the pasture or stuck in trees.”

The family was left with a pickup truck and a flat bed truck but no place to live and no foods to eat.

When asked when the storm struck, one of the Blocker children volunteered that the clock of her battery-operated radio stopped at 3:20 p.m.

Tri-County Volunteer Fire Department and Morgan County Commission workers played key roles in emergency rescue operations.

“Some of us had gathered at the fire department ahead of the storm and watched it move in,” said Paul Davis, a member of Tri-County Volunteer Fire Department (Hulaco). “We responded immediately to offer rescue assistance and help clear trees and debris from the roadways.”

District 3 Commissioner Greg Abercrombie said he and his crews worked through the afternoon and night Wednesday clearing trees and debris from 11 different roads in his district. Other district shops also provided manpower and equipment They also played a key role in helping the Morgan County Emergency Management Agency and the Morgan County Sheriff’s Office set up and emergency center at Ryan School. The school cafeteria was operating with generated power on Friday.

Abercrombie said volunteers fed about 200 meals on Thursday with the help of over 50 volunteers.  The emergency center is expected to remain open through the week.

Red Cross spokesman Robert Reid said 50 families applied for relief on Thursday and others were coming in on Friday.

The Morgan-Lawrence County Chapter of the Red Cross is accepting contributions for storm victims at its office on Holly Street in Decatur.

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