The unusually warm wind swept around Angela Salter last week as she talked about the event she’ll never forget — the 2012 Christmas tornado.
Salter was at her home on Silverwood, which was one of the hardest hit areas in Mobile, when the tornado came heading her way.
When she spoke to Lagniappe, collapsed porches, downed power lines and toppled trees set the background. Now, a year after the storm, life has returned to normal, but there are reminders of that day.
“My brother dropped me and my daughter off just before it happened,” Salter said. “I walked into the house and then went out back to get my dog inside. I walked to my front porch and was about to get an umbrella when I saw this huge cloud of whirling debris coming. It was shocking to see this tornado heading for us. It was surreal. I got me and my 10-year-old in the bathtub and told her to start praying.”
“So, I’m sitting in the bathtub with my daughter praying everything is going to be OK,” she said. “We heard debris just slamming the house. It was so loud. We could feel the whole house just vibrating.”
When everything finally quieted down, Salter walked outside and was amazed by how the street was transformed. The first thing she saw was Marie Feaster’s house across the street.
The 90-year-old Feaster and her family were on Silverwood Street having Christmas together. The porch roof had collapsed and there was roof damage as well. Luckily, the family was unharmed.
Now the street looks much like it did before the tornado. The homes are repaired and the streetlights are bright.
While Silverwood is nearly back to its original state, just a few blocks over, Murphy High School and Trinity Episcopal Church are still being repaired.
Silverwood was a little behind schedule in getting its lights repaired by the city and didn’t have them until the summer, but that’s nothing compared to the time it will take to get MHS and Trinity repaired.
Mobile County Public School System Executive Manager of Facilities Tommy Sheffield said Murphy High School would not be completely repaired for two more years.
“Murphy High School is back in operation, but there are still a few buildings not accessible. However, it is fully functional,” he said. “The band room, auditorium and natatorium, which is the pool area, are not open, but that’s because they are not prioritized areas of repair.”
The areas deemed priorities are the schoolrooms for classes.
As of Dec. 10, MHS students utilize six of the 20 portable classrooms, which Sheffield said are mainly for band purposes.
The road to getting MHS just back operational wasn’t short or easy. Just after the tornado came through Mobile, Sheffield received a call from his son who is a police officer.
“My son called me to tell me Murphy had been hit by the tornado and I should head there,” he said. “Well, I went from Dauphin Street to South Street. At first I thought, ‘Wow, we got lucky. It missed us.’ Then I walked around the tennis courts and toward the band room, which is one of the hardest hit areas. That’s when I knew we had a problem. It was devastating.”
The MCPSS has produced an in-house documentary called “Murphy Tornado,” which includes interviews about the night of the tornado, the damage, the move to Clark-Shaw and more. It can be seen online at MCPSS.TV.
“After the holidays, we should be ready to get the final plans approved and then in spring or summer bid out the first repairs,” Sheffield said. “The repairs will be in phases to work around the students.”
While the renovations to MHS will take two years, Trinity’s repairs should be done in a few months according to Fr. Bailey Norman.
“Things definitely look better today than they did just after the storm,” he said. “We are still not back in the church proper, but we are looking forward to our Christmas Eve services in the Parish Hall. We will mark the anniversary of the storm and give thanks for our community that pulled together in the days and months following the tornado.”
The church’s Parish Hall was severely damaged by the storm, necessitating a new roof and a new front wall, as well as numerous repairs inside. The sanctuary, which had just gone through a $1.1 million renovation in 2010, is largely being rebuilt.
“When the roof was torn off by the tornado, it destabilized the building,” he said. There isn’t a definitive answer for when the building will be finished. The roof is being put on now, but the repairs will take months.
Norman and the church’s focus isn’t on the building. Instead, they’re thinking of the people living around the church.
“Our primary concern was for the people of Midtown,” Norman said. “We are thankful that no one was killed or severely injured in the storm. Trinity Church is a joyful place, and we see ourselves as filling a vital role in the community.”
Trinity Episcopal Church wasn’t the only house of worship hit. Sweet Pilgrim Baptist Church received major damage that resulted in the church being torn down.
Pastor Julius Bryant remembered the day the tornado hit close to the church he had only pastored for four months.
He was at home that afternoon, watching television, when his wife called from work at Mobile Infirmary to tell him about the tornado warnings being issued. He then talked to the church’s head trustee, who went to the church immediately and gave the pastor a report on his cell phone.
“He literally walked me through what he saw,” he says. “He told me, ‘Pastor, the roof is gone!’”
The shock didn’t wear off especially after he saw the damage, which not only included the roof being torn off in part, but the church’s balcony being thrown into the pews.