“It Didn’t Last but a Minute”: Centreville Survivors Share Stories
Driving into Bibb County Friday morning, it would have been difficult to tell there had even been a storm the day before. The air was quiet, the sky was clear, and cars were sparse. The people you did see were shopping, going to work and just going about their normal lives.
The same could not be said for the residents of Airport Street, a miles-long stretch of road just off of Highway 82 East that was devastated during a long, power tornado that tore through the area Thursday afternoon.
Along this single street, there were dozens of downed and uprooted trees, houses with their roofs torn off and debris cast as far as they eye could see. Hundreds of emergency responders, power technicians and community members were out doing an initial cleanup.
The Tuscaloosa Thread was in Centreville early Friday morning to talk with residents who were present when the tornado hit.
The first property on the street sustained major damage: its detached garage was crumbling after under the weight of a tree that fell on its roof, a nearby mobile home had its roof torn off, and some metal sheeting was wrapped tightly around a tree in the front yard.
Charlie Burnette, the stepfather of the owner of the house, said his family was thankfully not at home when the tornado hit. Burnette drove from his house about 10 miles away to assist in the cleanup.
He was grateful that the main house was barely damaged but said there was a lot of work ahead of him. Burnette lost his left leg in an unrelated incident, but he was the first outside Friday morning helping clean up the scattered tree limbs littering the yard.
"We've just gotta keep on going," Burnette said. "I can't do much, but I'm happy to help how I can."
Another resident just down the road, Cindy Smitherman, was in her house as the tornado came through. She had been watching the weather, and when word came through that a tornado had touched down near Sawyerville headed toward Brent, she made sure to seek shelter.
She and her neighbors retreated to her underground storm shelter and quickly became trapped once a tree fell across the shelter door. Without power or a cell signal, and with no way out, Smitherman waited and listened for the storm to pass over.
"You could start by hearing debris hit the top of the storm pit," Smitherman said. "It was real quiet at first. It sounded like a train coming, you could hear the rumbling. Then the tree fell, of course, and that set us all back in shock. But it didn't last but a minute."
Smitherman and her neighbors were down in that shelter for another half hour before a rescue team was able to clear the debris. Emergency services were on the ground almost immediately to provide relief to her and others affected by the storm.
Before bigger cleanup crews reached her house later this morning, the several trees that had fallen on the side of her house resembled a spider's web. The back half of her driveway was entirely inaccessible.
Further down the road, the Bibb County Airport sits down a side street, obscured Friday morning behind piles of downed trees and debris. Two hangars housing a small collection of private planes were practically gutted, and the sides of the buildings were torn off or collapsed in on themselves in a pile of rubble.
Several planes were damaged or blown around the hangars. Emergency crews had yet to respond to the site. No residents were there at the time of the tornado.
Leaving town, the sides of the road were quickly being filled up with emergency vehicles, Alabama Power trucks and civilian vehicles.
The community offered a large, widespread response to the damage, with more on the way. Residents who spoke to the Tuscaloosa Thread had a clear consensus: Centreville is a strong, tight-knit community that will come together and come back better than it was before.
Fortunately, no serious injuries or fatalities have been reported out of Centreville at the time of publishing.
For more information on the impact of this severe weather as it develops, stay with The Tuscaloosa Thread.