National Weather Service Huntsville, Alabama Part 2

From Rourke: The following post was previously published on ModernSurvivalOnline. It can be seen in its original format HERE. Everything that follows is 100% true.

by BePrepared, see Part 1 here

I’m guessing around this time EMA declared this tornado scene an MCI (Mass Casualty Incident). This is akin to the scene in the movie “The Professional” where Gary Oldman’s character turns to the cop next to him and says, “Bring me everyone.” The cops looks at him and says, “Who?” and Oldman screams at him, “EVERYONE!!” Units down the state start getting phone calls to see who they call in, what crews can be spared and what equipment needs to be sent. On my end of the lines, I can barely make out what is going on where. Different individual units from different departments are all calling for help. “I’ve got three elderly here, one unconscious and two with open fractures, all entrapped we need help!” “Two kids here need transport immediately with critical injuries.” “I need an ambulance here, I’ve got a homeowner that says she has four injured and two dead up the road.” Utter confusion on the radio, takes three or four calls for the person your calling to even hear you. I should have brought my GMRS radios, one per truck. I give up on the radio and start yelling and communicating with hand signals to my crew.

We throw all debris out of a path between my truck and the victim, while they haul him over another FF brings me a woman with some broken ribs to take in and we put her in the cab with me. As soon as the backboard is secured in the back of the pickup I start out for the Coliseum, with a Rainsville PD escort. Cracked Ribs asks me, “Is it like this everywhere?” I tell her “I don’t know ma’am. This is the first place we have been.” Then I begin to get a little furious, behind my department’s apparatus are a line of eight or nine cars, just out looking around. “Gee the power is out, lets go look at the damage!” I reach down and power up my siren about the time the RPD hits his. We move no more than 30 mph through the hills towards Hwy 35 and I continue to get my escort to the Coliseum, only when we get there it’s dark. Hwy 35 (major four lane highway) has been completely shut down where the EF-4 went across the road, the only lights visible are all coming from car or trucks. There are no lights at the Coliseum, no ambulances, no triage going on. I’ve heard mention in my ICS 300/400 classes that the Coliseum will be a triage location, and it’s damn perfect for it. However as I drive by I see parts of it hanging off and in a few spots I can see THROUGH it. The Rainsville PD unit escorting me notices this as well and radios ahead that he is escorting me to City Hall/PD Station. As we pass by I notice the school buses smashed that have made all the news, I only see two of the buses there. I later learn that one went through a newly finished bank; the other went through the Huddle House. Cracked Ribs next to me start to cry again.

Once at City Hall it’s again obvious there is no triage set up here. I got out of my truck to check on DitchDr and his pt. He asks, “Are we there yet?” “Screw it,” I said,” we are going direct to DeKalb (Regional).” “Before we go I want a coat for me and a blanket for him,” DitchDr says. I give him my bunker coat, Dad (who had been following) gives him a blanket and we set out for DeKalb Regional Hospital. Once there we offload out pt out of the back while the ER tells us that Cracked Ribs has to go through Triage up front. Dad takes her around in his Jeep and while DitchDr is giving his pt report a charge nurse and doc grab me outside. They are in a serious panic and she demands that I call the head of the local EMS service for “some gawd damned ambulances”. I tell her that my radio can only hear EMS, not talk to them. She looks at me and says, “what gawd damned good are you then!?” and storms off back into the ER. Mental note to self, don’t come back to the ER tonight. I collect up DitchDr and we pull my pickup out just as another ambulance rolls up.

As we leave DitchDr looks at me and asks, “Where we going boss?” I tell him we are going to Rainsville FD for triage since all the ambulances are out in the field running, they are going to need some medical personnel there. DitchDr and I arrived at the Rainsville Fire Department for triage and found pandemonium. It looked like the only members of a real fire department were us in our road vests. A cop with “SRT” on his black shirt was barely in control of the place. Well DitchDr the paramedic and BP the Basic went to work.
For hours. I handled the walking wounded, he got the broken bones and sucking chest wounds. I still can see a few of those pts clearly; the older man who reminded me of my grandfather, “Go see them, I’m alright” while he had deep gashes that were coagulating, the massive facial hematoma that I could see skull behind but the guy was worried about water for his wife, the 12yro girl with a deep laceration in her side, the 6yr girl naked because she was in the bath however untouched. Her mother was covered with “road rash” from the house disintegrating around them. The Hispanic man who didn’t speak English, yet suffered with us as we treated his crushed foot, broken ribs, abrasions and broken nose. And so on, and so on, and so on.
Around 8:30-9pm the Red Cross showed up with a LOT of security. Later I learned that the “security” was sheriff’s department’s from counties in south Alabama. The Disaster Team was the first to show to help us. Later and later we went we hand more medical personnel show; LPNs, RNs, First Responders. But the problem was that as the medical people showed up, the stream of pts went down. At 10pm we were staffed to help 100 pts and hour, yet we had four. When I showed, we had 10 pts per medical staff. Around 11pm, Lt BP retired his team from triage.

We need to back up a second here, about a year ago my family conducted an “EMP weekend” where we made due without (grid-supplied) electricity or most any electronic of electrical convenience. We even shut off the water but having our own septic field, we only needed water to flush. Flush water was provided by the rain barrels outside, potable water was provided via the seven gallon Aquatainer-brand water cubes. These we placed on 4×4 blocks next to the sink so the Aquatainer’s valve would drop right into our kitchen sink. Having an electric stove, we knew we would need something more than just the propane/charcoal grill to cook on with no power so we found a nice four burner wood cook stove at a yard sale and set it up on the porch. The lowest tech generator I have was deemed to have “survived” the EMP event (being in the all metal sided shop) and we experimented with different run times to keep the freezer/refer cool with minimal run time. We found that running twice a day, morning and evening, during the cooking times (lunch is a cold meal) covered the times the doors to the freezer/refer were open for cooking. Lighting was provided by oil lamps. So back to the tornado.

Thursday morning dawned in silence. No power, no water pressure. We fired up the wood burning stove and cooked bacon and (from out own chickens) eggs for everyone. I fired up the gen so we could watch a little TV, charge the VHF radios/cell phones and see other devastation. Dekalb county was leading the state in dead, yet all the news crews were in Tuscaloosa. Everything I saw last night was far worse than any tornado I’d ever seen before. There was nothing over six feet tall that wasn’t a debris bank or a (formally) very large tree. Before leaving to do search and rescue work, I instructed those at home to move all foodstuffs from the other freezers into the main upright in the house that was being charged. I also made sure that everyone at the house know where the firearms were and if they had a CC permit, they were to keep their personal firearm on them at all times. Since phone service was spotty, 911 was not very reliable and on top of that all the LEOs were already spread thin blocking disaster stuck areas from gawkers or looters.

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Disaster command tells us to look for a man who was not with his crumbled truck when he drove into the storm. We drive down to the area, seeing widespread (and awesome) damage and get to the pasture he “might” have been thrown. I found a motorcycle (Yamaha 400cc) bounced a half mile across a pasture. Plenty of pictures from a picture album spread across the pasture. We didn’t find anyone, found out later he was found further down the damage zone.  As we made out way over to County Rd 27 I could barely recognize the area, until I saw a Trailways bus flipped over on its side some 50 yards from the other side of the road where it was usually parked when I drove by. I then recognized the intersection of County Rd 27 and County Rd 119. The 102yr old Mountain View Church was at that intersection, I say was,as I saw trees and 2x4s. However my blood went cold when I remembered that one of my daughter’s best friends lived next door to that church. I looked at the modern brick home leveled with people picking through it. Further down the road I saw where three or four single wide mobile homes used to be. These are simply gone, I’ve only found wreckage from one. The power poles for these trailers are snapped off six feet up, the power pole is nowhere to be seen. As feared there was significant loss of life in this area when crews finally cut through. After checking on family friends in the area, we were relieved of duty around 5pm Thursday. Curfew was in effect from 9pm to 5am in all of Dekalb County. Nearly all of the areas of destruction had hand painted “LOOTERS WILL BE SHOT” signs up, many of them also in Spanish. Our Sheriff did not encourage the removal of these signs.

Friday our department was not needed for SAR work so one of the clan hooked up our Bug Out Trailer and went to the home of family friends. The use of a portable toilet in a privacy tent on the scene of their destroyed home was welcomed. I busied myself with clearing the small amount of limbs we had down and moving the preps out of storage and into usage. We finally got water pressure late Saturday evening. Power was restored on Sunday. No water pressure for 76 hours. No power for 104 hours.

 

PUBLIC INFORMATION STATEMENT…UPDATED
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE HUNTSVILLE AL
1120 PM CDT FRI APR 29 2011

…UPDATED STORM SURVEY INFORMATION FROM DEKALB COUNTY…

A PRELIMINARY STORM SURVEY WAS CONDUCTED TODAY /THURSDAY/ BY NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE PERSONNEL IN RESPONSE TO WIDESPREAD DAMAGE THAT OCCURRED WEDNESDAY /APRIL 27/ ACROSS WESTERN DEKALB COUNTY.
INITIAL FINDINGS ARE AS FOLLOWS:

* EVENT TYPE: TORNADO
* EVENT DATE: 04/27/2011
* ESTIMATED PEAK WIND: 175 MPH
* PRELIMINARY RATING: EF-4
* PRELIMINARY PATH LENGTH: 33 MILES
* MAXIMUM PATH WIDTH: 1/2 TO 3/4 MILE
* FATALITIES: AT LEAST 32…EXACT NUMBER UNKNOWN
* INJURIES: UNKNOWN
* SUMMARY: THE TORNADO PATH IS LIKELY TO HAVE BEGUN IN THE LAKEVIEW COMMUNITY NORTHEAST OF GERALDINE. THE TORNADO THEN TRACKED NORTHEASTWARD GENERALLY PARALLEL AND JUST EAST OF STATE ROUTE 75 THROUGH FYFFE…RAINSVILLE…AND SYLVANIA.

THE SURVEY TEAM NOTICED INITIAL DAMAGE ALONG A LINE STARTING IN THE LAKEVIEW COMMUNITY. THE PATH WIDTH HERE WAS GENERALLY AROUND 50 YARDS AND INITIAL DAMAGE INCLUDED MOSTLY FELLED AND SNAPPED TREES AND STRUCTURAL DAMAGE TO SMALL BUILDINGS. EXTENSIVE DAMAGE WAS NOTED ESPECIALLY IN THE RAINSVILLE AND SYLVANIA COMMUNITIES WHERE THE PATH WIDTH WAS ESTIMATED TO BE UP TO 1/2 MILE. DAMAGE IN RAINSVILLE INCLUDED HOUSES THAT WERE COMPLETELY REMOVED FROM FOUNDATIONS…WITH DEBRIS SCATTERED FOR ABOUT ONE MILE. NEAR THIS LOCATION…TREES WERE DEBARKED AND A FEW MOBILE HOMES WERE COMPLETELY DESTROYED WITH DEBRIS STREWN FOR ABOUT A MILE DOWNSTREAM. IN THE SYLVANIA COMMUNITY…A SIMILAR SITUATION OCCURRED WITH HOUSES COMPLETELY REMOVED FROM FOUNDATIONS AND DEBRIS BLOWN FAR DOWNSTREAM. SOME OF THESE HOUSES CONTAINED ANCHOR BOLTS AND FOUNDATION STRAPS.

** UPDATED INFORMATION BELOW **
INFORMATION WAS RECEIVED FROM DEKALB COUNTY EMA WHO CONDUCTED SEVERAL AREAL SURVEYS AND DETERMINED THAT THE TORNADO DAMAGE PATH WAS INDEED CONTINUOUS FROM THE LAKEVIEW COMMUNITY THROUGH RAINSVILLE…SYLVANIA…AND THEN TO CARTERSVILLE IN NORTHEASTERN DEKALB COUNTY. FURTHER DAMAGE WAS OBSERVED TO THE NORTH OF CARTERSVILLE AND INTO NORTHWEST GEORGIA…BUT THIS IS BELIEVED TO BE ANOTHER TRACK FROM A POSSIBLE TORNADO EARLIER IN THE DAY.

GROUND SURVEYS WERE CONDUCTED FROM THE BLAKE COMMUNITY INTO SOUTHEAST SYLVANIA…THEN THROUGH HENAGAR…IDER…AND TO CARTERSVILLE. THE TORNADO DAMAGE CONTINUED ALONG THE PATH FROM THE BLAKE COMMUNITY…INTERSECTING COUNTY ROAD 27 AND CONTINUING TO THE NORTHEAST RUNNING PARALLEL BETWEEN HIGHWAY 75 AND INTERSTATE 59 THROUGH HENAGAR…IDER…AND THEN INTO CARTERSVILLE.

IN THE BLAKE COMMUNITY…THE TORNADO DAMAGE WIDTH WAS ESTIMATED TO BE ONE HALF TO PERHAPS AS MUCH AS THREE QUARTERS OF A MILE WIDE. ALONG COUNTY ROAD 27 JUST SOUTHEAST OF THE BORDER WITH THE SYLVANIA COMMUNITY…SIGNIFICANT DAMAGE WAS OBSERVED. ALL EXTERIOR AND INTERIOR WALLS OF SEVERAL HOMES WERE COMPLETELY DESTROYED WITH PARTIAL BLOCK AND MORTAR FOUNDATIONS REMAINING. IN ONE INSTANCE…A CONCRETE SLAB THAT SERVED AS A PORCH WAS DISPLACED A FEW FEET AND BROKEN IN HALF. SOME HARDWOOD TREES IN THE AREA WERE STRIPPED WITH NO STUBS OF ANY BRANCHES REMAINING AND WERE PARTIALLY DEBARKED. THE MOUNTAIN VIEW BAPTIST CHURCH…WHICH WAS JUST INSIDE THE SYLVANIA COMMUNITY ALSO SUSTAINED SIGNIFICANT DAMAGE. AN OLD ONE STORY PORTION OF THE CHURCH DATING TO 1902 AND CONSTRUCTED OF A BRICK AND MORTAR EXTERIOR ON WOOD FRAME WALLS WAS COMPLETELY DESTROYED. A RECENT TWO-STORY ADDITION TO THE CHURCH CONSTRUCTED IN 2004 AND CONSISTING OF SIMILAR BUILDING MATERIALS WAS PARTIALLY DESTROYED…WITH MOST EXTERIOR WALLS AND NEARLY ALL INTERIOR WALLS FALLEN. A CONCRETE BLOCK AND MORTAR FOUNDATION WAS ALL THAT REMAINED OF A HALLWAY ADJOINING THE TWO BUILDINGS.

FURTHER TO THE NORTHEAST ALONG COUNTY ROAD 112 JUST EAST OF SYLVANIA AND NEAR THE HIGH POINT COMMUNITY…A COUPLE OF ELECTRICAL TRANSMISSION METAL TRUSS TOWERS WERE COMPLETELY BENT OVER AND PARTIALLY TWISTED. SEVERAL HOMES ALONG COUNTY ROAD 112 WERE ALSO COMPLETELY DESTROYED WITH INTERIOR AND EXTERIOR WALLS ALL COLLAPSED…BUT LARGE DEBRIS PORTIONS REMAINED NEARBY.

FARTHER TO THE NORTHEAST…JUST SOUTH OF THE IDER COMMUNITY ALONG COUNTY ROAD 17…THE TORNADO WIDTH WAS ESTIMATED TO BE ABOUT ONE HALF MILE WIDE. IN THIS LOCATION…SEVERAL HOMES WERE DESTROYED WITH EXTERIOR AND INTERIOR WALLS ALL BLOWN AWAY. BLOCK AND MORTAR FOUNDATIONS REMAINED. MOST HARDWOOD TREES WERE COMPLETELY STRIPPED AND DEBARKED IN THIS AREA OF DAMAGE.

SOUTH OF CARTERSVILLE AND NEAR THE BLEVINS MILL COMMUNITY…TREES WERE SNAPPED AND FELLED…BUT THE DAMAGE PATH HERE WAS REDUCED TO ABOUT 50 YARDS AS THE TORNADO APPEARED TO WEAKEN.

FURTHER SURVEYS WILL BE CONDUCTED THIS WEEKEND TO REVIEW WITH WORST HIT AREAS OF DAMAGE ALONG THE PATH. ADDITIONAL INFORMATION ON THIS TORNADO…INCLUDING PATH WIDTH…LENGTH AND MAXIMUM INTENSITY IS STILL SUBJECT TO CHANGE.

THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE IN HUNTSVILLE WOULD LIKE TO THANK THE EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT OF DEKALB COUNTY…AND OTHER CITIZENS…SOME OF WHOM EVEN VOLUNTEERED TIME AND INFORMATION DURING THEIR CLEANUP EFFORTS TO HELP IN CONDUCTING THIS STORM SURVEY.

 

What did I learn from all this?
– a modern to-building-code spec brick home can take a EF-3, seen it before. EF-4 will eat it, burp and take your neighbor’s house. You chances of staying alive, indoors in a direct hit are about 40%. I have been frightened of tornadoes since I was a child during the Super Outbreak of ’74, now I’m borderline terrified of them.

– always ALWAYS refill your vehicle gas tanks when they reach 1/2 tank. My pickup had 1/4 tank left for rescue ops for two days, thankfully I didn’t have to use the three gallon reserve tank. It wasn’t that there was no gas around, there was absolutely no way to pump it. I had 20 gallons of stored gas for the gen, but I didn’t want to get into that reserve.

– Forty eight hours of bad sleep and rescue/triage work is all our group can take before we start to break down. We started to get into petty fights and ragging on each others nerves, not something you want to have within your own TEAM. We now have a mandatory 48hr rule, no more rescue/triage work beyond those numbers without 24hrs of doing anything BUT working on the disaster.

-GMRS radios are great for group coordination, if you remember to bring them.

-Put your name in at least two places on all your gear. OR make it ugly enough so that no one will want to “borrow” it. My BP cuff and Litteman scope damn near walked away from me a dozen times that Wednesday night. Same with my Mini-Mag light and my personal “Res-Q” tools.

– Need a 1 gal Chainsaw mix and a small amount of Bar Oil stocked in my pickup tool box.

– I have just about everything a Basic EMT can legally carry in my jump kit however imagine eight medics working out of four personal jump kits with 50 pts. Yea I added more stuff, and started carrying band-aids. Makes little kids stop crying like magic.

This was the biggest crisis to hit my clan since Hurricane Ivan left us with no power for 14 days. We’ve come a long way since then, so much so that no power and no water pressure was just the briefest of hiccups in our regular lives.

[A note from Rourke: Thank you C.D. – for your post here and your service]

 


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3 Comments

  1. Great post! If reading this doesn’t make you review your plans, nothing will. Also, the reference that you only have a 40% chance of survival of surviving a direct hit even if you are in a well built per code home, is staggering. Many of us would have thought if you have a substantial interior closet or bathroom, you would be good to go. Makes me think my idea of building in that “safe room” in the corner of the garage that backs into the hill side may be a very good investment.

  2. Hey, Rourke!
    I hail from somewhere in the deep dark forests south of you in Walker County, so hello, neighbor 😀
    I appreciate the tremendous work you’ve put into the site…it’s a great resource!
    And oren player, back in 1998 a monster tornado went through a place called Olive Grove in the county south of me. A man who lived there who sold heavy truck parts serviced the company I worked for, and we got to talk about the damage one day. He showed me pictures of fine, big, solid brick homes that literally disappeared. It really doesn’t matter if you’re in a mobile home or a cinder block compound…a tornado isn’t prejudiced one bit.
    It’s my firm conviction that my best chance to survive any tornado is to be underground surrounded by Terra Firma.

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