County misses brunt of storms

Published 12:00 am Monday, April 28, 2003

Many Andalusians woke Friday morning, not to the sound of their alarm clocks, but to the alarming sound of the town's emergency sirens. At approximately 6:20 a.m., the National Weather Service (NWS) issued a tornado warning for Covington County, with a funnel cloud reportedly seen between Andalusia and Opp, in the Sanford area.

'"I don't think it ever touched down anywhere," said one of the E911 dispatchers. According to dispatcher Jennifer Warthen, the dispatcher on duty at E911 is responsible for turning on the siren as soon as he or she is notified of the tornado warning status by the NWS. "Only for warning status," she added, noting that the sirens are not turned on during a tornado watch.

No serious damage was immediately evident from the high winds, although several areas and communities reported brief power outages, some due to the many lightning strikes in the heavy thunderstorm that preceded the tornado.

One such strike apparently hit a utility pole near the Highway 29 and Highway 84 intersection, causing an hour-long power outage for some of the local businesses and disabling the traffic light for more than two hours.

There was only one storm-related automobile accident reported, when a male driver, heading north on Highway 55, wrecked his 1994 Chevrolet pickup truck just north of Red Oak. According to the Alabama State trooper's office, the victim was Ronnie Davis, 55. Davis apparently crossed the southbound lane during the heavy downpour and entered the ditch, flipping the truck to one side. According to Covington County Deputy Scott Ballard, the first person on the scene after the wreck reported the victim as being conscious and talking. He was taken to Andalusia Regional Hospital. His condition was unknown at press time.

There were few other incidents reported to the Sheriff's department, according to Ballard.

Covington County fared better than other areas to the west which were struck by the storm's squall line earlier. According to a report on the Weather Channel, the same system had tornado touchdowns in Brandon, Miss., where extensive damage resulted from downed powerlines to damaged homes and businesses. Mississippi declared a state of emergency in several counties with more than 7,300 homes left without power.

Other areas to suffer damage from the storms included the Washington Parish in Louisiana, and Okaloosa County and Walton County in Florida.

Andalusia City schools opened late due the weather, keeping the buses off the roads until the NWS had lifted the tornado warning.

"They let the buses start rolling at 7:30, whenever kids could safely get there," said Adonis Gray with the school superintendent's office.

In Florala, no serious weather-related damage was reported, but the town did suffer a power outage. In Opp, schools started on time, but a health fair scheduled at South Highlands Elementary School was canceled and will be rescheduled. The Headstart School in Andalusia was canceled for the day.

Because of the early hour, few travelers were on the road, which could explain the low number of storm-related traffic accidents, according to Steve Walters, general manager of the Andalusia Rescue Squad.

"The wreck in Red Oak was the only one I heard of," he said.

The dispatchers at E911 said that no one had called in any storm damage.

The storm continued its move eastward, prompting similar tornado warnings in Coffee and Geneva counties, but no serious damage was reported at press time.