Skip to main content

Tornado recovery work begins in Alabama

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 6:25 PM EST, Tue January 24, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Storm killed 2 people; the father of the younger victim recalls his daughter
  • Alabama governor tours hard-hit communities
  • Five schools in Jefferson County remained closed after storm
  • Storms come less than nine months after a tornado outbreak that killed 243 in Alabama

Clay, Alabama (CNN) -- Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley on Tuesday toured communities hit by a tornado that destroyed or damaged hundreds of homes and killed two people.

"I do not understand, except by God's grace, that people can survive some of the damage that I see in some of the residential areas," Bentley said.

The National Weather Service confirmed at least three tornadoes touched down in Alabama early Monday. Two were detected in north central Tuscaloosa County, while the third hit near the town of Clay in Jefferson County, packing winds estimated at 150 miles per hour. The storm destroyed at least 211 homes and seriously damaged another 218 in Jefferson County alone, according to the Alabama Red Cross.

The severe weather obliterated the three-story home of Darrell Heichelbech, his wife and two children. Daughter Christina Heichelbech, 16, was one of two killed in the storm.

"She had just such spirit, such life ... She was the kind of kid you wanted to have," her father told CNN, barely able to speak through tears. "All her plans were coming into play, and now they're gone. I don't know what to do."

Deadly tornado destroys 200+ homes
Family survives storm as house collapses
State of emergency in Alabama
Severe weather hits Arkansas

The girl's family found her about 40 feet from the house, he told The Birmingham News. She was still on her mattress.

"She just looked like she was sleeping like a baby," the newspaper quoted the father as saying. "But she wasn't sleeping. She was gone."

Heichelbech said the storm woke him up, and he called for his family to get downstairs, according to the newspaper. But he said the storm hit as soon as his 13-year-old son emerged from his room.

"I grabbed a hold of his legs and held on as hard as I could," the newspaper quoted him as saying. "I felt wind, but no movement. It was a blink of an eye. There's no question in my mind we took a direct hit."

Authorities said the storm also killed Bobby Sims, 83, a resident of Oak Grove, a community west of Birmingham.

At least seven Alabama counties reported damage from the storm, with the majority in Jefferson and Chilton counties, the governor's office said.

Bentley pledged "whatever resources we have available" to take care of victims.

In Jefferson County, five schools remained closed Tuesday, including one that will have to be torn down.

Center Point Elementary was 80% destroyed, district spokeswoman Nez Calhoun said.

"It's like Mother Nature has a mean way of doing things," Calhoun said. "This building was only six or seven years old. We added 22 classrooms for growth."

The storm comes less than nine months after a tornado outbreak killed 243 people across Alabama, including 61 in Birmingham and Tuscaloosa.

"The one thing that we can say is thank goodness we're not looking at what happened in this state last year in April," Art Faulkner, director of the Alabama Emergency Management Agency, said Monday.

CNN's Reynolds Wolf and Rick Martin contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT