October 5, 1995
Web posted at: 12:10 p.m. EDT
DOTHAN, Alabama (CNN) -- Although they woke up to a mess Thursday morning, many Alabama residents also woke up relieved. Yes, Hurricane Opal turned over trees, turned out the lights and turned streets into rivers. But the storm could have been much worse.
Early Wednesday, when Opal spiraled into a category four storm, it appeared it would take the Alabama coast by force. Thousands of residents fled coastal cities such as Gulf Shores under a mandatory evacuation order. However, unpredictable Opal instead tore inland on the Florida coast, then headed for inland Alabama, just skirting Gulf Shores.
The eye of the storm touched Alabama's Covington County around 7 p.m. CDT, then traveled a twister-ridden north- northeasterly trek on her way to Georgia. Tornadoes destroyed two homes in Crenshaw County, and swirling funnel clouds were observed in southeast and south-central Alabama.
No human casualties have been reported in the state -- Alabama's trees and power lines were the only victims in this storm. Thursday will be "chain saw day" for the southeastern United States, one official said. One normally tidy Dothan neighborhood resembled a ramshackle forest, with trees toppled in driveways, and leaves, branches and debris sprinkled over the streets.
Correspondent John Holliman stood by as residents ventured one by one from their homes and stared in wonder at the effects of the storm.
"It's about the worst thing I've ever seen," said one man, emerging from behind a cluster of overhanging branches. "All I heard the night before was just high winds."
Amy Davis said she heard plenty. "The winds got pretty loud out here, then we heard ... a tree falling and cracking. We didn't know if it was headed toward our house or not." Turns out it was headed for the family's driveway, but they'd had the foresight to store their cars in a warehouse. "We consider ourselves fortunate," Davis said (more from Amy Davis - 213K AIFF sound or 213K WAV sound).
Other neighborhood residents echoed her feelings. While one couple acknowledged the "night was pretty bad," they noted that the damage wasn't unfixable. "We're just going to clean it up," the man said. "You can replace most things. ... Trees will grow again (145K AIFF sound or 145K WAV sound)."
It will take a few days to get back to the business of living. Power outages have affected about a million people throughout the southeastern United States, including some 235,000 in Alabama. Mobile suffered the brunt of the blackout, but outages spread upward through Montgomery and Birmingham. Maintenance workers were waylaid by high winds.
President Clinton has declared Alabama a disaster area, meaning the federal government will help pay for emergency operations. Gov. James Fob also has activated more than a hundred Alabama Army National Guard engineers to help with the cleanup.
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