‘That’s the hand of God’: Winfield reports zero injuries after tornado

Crews use a torch to cut a leaning metal utility pole from the middle of Bankhead Highway

WINFIELD — Winfield Police Chief Brett Burleson said that as of Thursday morning, there were no injuries reported during the tornado on Wednesday night, Dec. 29.
The tornado tore through downtown Winfield just before 7 p.m. that night, ripping off roofs and blowing out windows.
Cleanup efforts began immediately after the storm passed, with workers and volunteers from all around Marion County as well as Fayette, Winston and Lamar counties.
Crews managed to clear the main intersection within about four hours according to Winfield Mayor Randy Price.
“I still can’t say enough about how many people volunteered their equipment if we needed it,” Price said. “Fortunately, we didn’t need that much equipment. With no fatalities or injuries, we weren’t having to use chain saws to cut people out or anything, so we were real fortunate in that way. We were able to do it with what resources we had here already.”
Price said that the city is now focused on clearing up fallen trees and debris.
Burleson said that power should be restored quickly, and town should be back to normal within a few days.
“I spoke with Alabama Power, and they are flooding the area (with personnel) and they hope to have service up by 6 p.m. today,” Burleson said on Thursday morning. “We’re way ahead of where we thought we’d be. As long as people will be patient with us, we hope to be up and running in the next day or so.”
Burleson said Winfield was blessed with zero fatalities and no injuries, even minor ones.
“Not a one. As far as we know, there’s not even a bruise,” he said. “We feel like that’s a blessing, with it hitting a downtown district like this at the time that it did. All that you can say is that’s the hand of God.”
Monika Downs was working at Pizza Bar when the tornado came through town.
“We were all working in our stations in the back, and we just heard a lot of thunder,” Downs said. “Then the windows and the doors started shaking so we went to a room in the back and we didn’t come out until we heard it was quiet.”
Owners Jayson and Katie Merchant said that the roof didn’t collapse, but workers were briefly stuck inside.
“The front door had debris in front of it, so they couldn’t go out that way,” Jayson Merchant said. “The side door had power lines down, so they couldn’t go out those either. They called the fire department and two firefighters came in the back door and helped them all get out. There wasn’t anyone that was trapped, but they were kind of stuck because of the debris and the power lines.”
“Nothing collapsed inside. It just blew off the roof,” Katie Merchant added. “It’s all on the street behind us and up in the trees. We had a lot of water damage on the inside.”
“There are some places where you can see the outside from the inside, so I don’t know what can be repaired and what can’t, but we’re going to figure it out,” Jayson continued. “We’ll get it figured out and get started again. Whatever we need to do. One thing I’ve really learned about Winfield is that Winfield knows how to take care of Winfield. It’s a very resilient town, and we’ll keep moving forward.”
Several other downtown businesses were also affected. Cardinal Drive-In suffered some damage toward the back of the building when part of the metal awning collapsed. Crosman Kustom Designz suffered damage to the roof and the interior of the store. The Pastime Theatre sustained minor roof damage and slight water damage inside. Bama OffRoad suffered severe roof damage and lost windows on the front and sides of the building. Grapevine also lost some of its roof.
Two of the hardest hit businesses were Economy Cleaners and the Winfield Antique Mall. Economy Cleaners, located in the Sunset Village shopping center, lost its entire roof. According to a Facebook post from Economy Cleaners, they were able to move into another suite in the same building and reopened on Tuesday, Jan. 4.
The Winfield Antique Mall suffered extreme damage to the wall facing Pizza Bar, with debris destroying a vehicle parked beside it. Owner Mike Hynds posted on Facebook that he would open again on Friday, and several people of the community stopped by to help support his business.
“Right now, we’ve moved everything out of our damaged part of the building and condensed it into the two other buildings in our store, so there’s very little walk room,” said Hynds on Friday morning. “But as far as people coming in and wanting to shop, because of the post and because of the damage and wanting to help in some way, we’ve had people coming to shop and I appreciate it very much. It blows my mind, the folks in the area that are wanting to help in some way. We’ve liquidated a lot of items that normally we wouldn’t.
“We had over 50 people here on Thursday helping. Right now (Friday morning) we’ve got about 20. That’s just astronomical. Right now we’re trying to sell what we can to make room, then we’ll wait on insurance to evaluate this morning. It will probably be torn down. Then they’ll evaluate the other two buildings just to see if they’re structurally sound and then go from there.
“If it happens that they don’t feel good about the other two buildings, it’ll be catastrophic, because I’ve got three basements and now two upstairs buildings that are crammed completely full of items. I just don’t know where I’d go from there. If only this part of the building comes down, I think we would survive. I’ve still got a full basement I’ve got to clean out, but we would survive. I’ve talked to the mayor, and he asked if I would stay and if I would like this building back. We would try to build back if the insurance is feasible, and that’s what the city wants to do. This city does own the building, so it’s their decision what will happen. But I think they want to keep me in town.
“We thank the community and everyone just for being concerned and helping out where they can.”

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