Walmart, Hibbett Sports begin long process of restoring buildings after storm
Published 4:00 am Saturday, August 8, 2015
“It looks like God just took his foot and stepped on it.”
That’s the best description Troy Mayor Jason Reeves heard on Friday as officials surveyed the damage from an EF-1 tornado that hit the Troy Walmart shopping center late Thursday night, cutting a diagonal swath across the store before careening across the parking lot and collapsing the south end of Hibbett Sports.
“I heard the building inspector say that after he went in the Hibbetts store,” Reeves said. “The downward pressure there just imploded the building. And in the parking lot (between Walmart and Hibbetts) it turned over an 18-wheeler …
“It’s just amazing what a tornado can do in such a short amount of time.”
The National Weather Service on Friday confirmed an EF-1 tornado with wind speeds of up to 100 mph had touched down along U.S. 231 around 10:35 p.m. Thursday. Reeves said the tornado traveled about 650 feet before lifting off the ground, leaving six people injured, though none severely.
The tornado caught forecasters off guard, touching down before a warning could be issued. This was the first non-tropical tornado to occur in Pike County in August, according to Matt Anderson with National Weather Service in Birmingham.
“Typically we don’t see any situations in August where we have tornados in Alabama,” Anderson said.
Anderson confirmed that the tornado touched down at 10:35 p.m., whereas the tornado warning was not sent out until several minutes after at 10:39 p.m.
“These types of weaker tornadoes come and go and don’t look as classic as we would normally like to see to issue a warning,” Anderson said. “We aren’t going to catch every tornado.”
The NWS classified the tornado as an EF-1, reaching peak wind speeds of 100 mph. It traveled just under half a mile and was 50 yards wide.
“It is a highly unusual situation,” Anderson said. “There were other storms on the radar, but this was the only one that produced a tornado. There was nothing else like this in the area. It’s complicated because we don’t typically see this.”
Reeves said officials had issued a significant weather advisory earlier in the day, but the tornado was “just one of those anomalies.”
“It’s something that people need to realize: any time you have a thunderstorm warning, you just don’t know what could happen.”
Jeanna Barnes, director of the Pike County EMA, said since 2000 there have been only two other non-tropical tornadoes in August in the state. “We became the third,” she said.
Barnes said the significant weather advisory had been issued around 10:32 p.m.
“In a matter of minutes, by 10:39, it was to a tornado. The radar was showing the hook echo of the storm no more than five minutes (after the advisory was issued),” she said. “This storm quickly escalated and is a prime example of why you should constantly rely on something more than the weather sirens. Those sirens are good for a one-mile radius on a clear day when you are outside.
“With a storm of this magnitude, and as loud as it was, it is always smart to have a weather radio or weather app on standby.”
Barnes said the tornado was short-lived. “If it touched ground at all, it wasn’t for more than 30 seconds,” she said.
Those 30 seconds were terrifying for the few dozen employees and shoppers inside the Walmart store.
“The roof started buckling and you couldn’t hear for a second,” said Jacob Flowers. “It sounded like hail. If it sounded like a train, it sounded like one that was driving by. The whole building was shaking.”
Eric Bagents of Rutledge was shopping in the electronics department when the tornado hit.
“I was looking for somewhere to go,” he said. “I just got low … I was heading to the bathroom because it’s walled up, but I stopped before I realized that’s what I needed to do.”
Employee Sarah Brookins said the storm caught everyone by surprise.
“We heard a loud noise,” she said. “All of a sudden the wind was blowing in the store. We saw dust blowing through the door.”
She said the storm started from the home and pharmacy departments and headed to the other end of the store, apparently moving southward.
“I was outside the door,” said Lamont Jackson, another employee who was scheduled to begin his shift at 11 p.m. “I was texting on my phone. It struck and the wind started blowing (so) I got into the store.
“I was holding onto the carts … I was standing there up against the wall.”
Nick Brian, a spokesman for Walmart, said the store sustained significant damage to the roof and windows and doors. “We’re very thankful there were no serious injuries,” he said.
Corporate officials were on site Friday with structural engineers, assessing the damage. Brian said the extent of the damage both structurally and effects to merchandise were being assessed and officials would make operations decisions accordingly.
Employees on Friday were being directed to nearby Walmart stores in Enterprise, Ozark and Dothan. “Obviously we have associates who were scheduled to work and we’re giving them an opportunity to work in other stores in the area,” Brian said. “We expect there will be a need with the tax-free shopping weekend.”