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Selma AL Begins Digging Out From Devastating Storm

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Tornado damage near downtown Selma, Ala., Thursday, Jan. 12, 2023. (Marvin Gentry | news@al.com)

Mike Cason | mcason@al.com

Rachel Daniel was at work at the Goodwill Store on Furniss Avenue when a storm that ravaged Selma and the surrounding area struck on Thursday.

Daniel, 30, said she was at the front of the store near the cash register, saw the rain and wind gathering strength, and knew it was time to seek a safer spot.

“I’m screaming at my co-workers,” Daniel said. “I’m screaming at the customers, ‘Everybody get in the bathroom right now.’ As soon as we were running to the back, it blew the windows out. It took our back door off.”

Much of the glass front was blown out of the Goodwill store, which is in downtown Selma at the edge of a neighborhood riddled with snapped trees, fallen utility poles, and damaged homes and vehicles on Thursday afternoon.

Daniel said there were three employees and two customers in the store. She said she was watching for storms and possibly a tornado. But that didn’t make it less frightening when it struck.

“I had to pick one of my co-workers up because she had dropped to the floor and got in the fetal position,” Daniel said. “She couldn’t get up because I guess she hurt her knee. So I had to grab her, pull her in the bathroom. We were in there for about five minutes. It didn’t seem long. It kind came and went fast.”

“It was scary,” Daniel said. “It was so scary.”

Bobby Lewis, 62, worked with his chain saw to clear a tree blocking Furniss Avenue, just a couple of blocks from the Goodwill store. Lewis said he was at his home about a mile away when the storm hit. He said he only saw heavy rain and some wind at his house but got a call from his wife, who works in a real estate office downtown. He encountered a stunning scene when he drove into the damaged area.

“It was almost like watching a movie,” Lewis said. “I couldn’t believe it myself, knowing that where I had just left nothing had happened. And then get over here and it’s just like a bomb had blown up or something.”

Lewis said he sawed two fallen trees at his wife’s office that were blocking the parking lot before beginning work on the tree blocking Furniss Avenue. He was working alone initially but another man arrived and with his saw and begin working on another section of the massive tree.

Prayer Answered

Stephanie Walters, 64, said she was at work at the Salvation Army store on Broad Street when the storm arrived.

“The windows, the doors, and everything blew off, and we couldn’t do anything but just get on our knees and begin to pray,” Walters said. “Oh, we prayed to the Almighty God for comfort and protection.”

Walters said the prayer was answered.

“I know it was. I’m here. I’m here sir,” Walters said.

Walters said she invited co-workers whose homes sustained damage to stay at the home she rents not far from downtown. But she arrived at her home to find significant damage, including a collapsed garage. Late Thursday afternoon, she was picking up debris in the front yard. Asked if she could stay at home tonight, she said she had not yet been inside.

“Sir, I’m in a state of shock,” Walters said. “That’s why you see me out here picking up stuff. I just don’t know what to do next. I was at work and we’d been sweeping and picking up and doing things like that. And then to come home to this. I’m drained.”

Jakobe Walker, 16, crossed the street at the corner where Walters lives, an intersection where downed trees, power lines, and home damage dominated the view in every direction. Walker stopped to pick up a flattened stop sign and worked the base of it into the ground so that it stood upright again. Walker said he was at school at Selma High School when the storm hit. He said his house, just a few blocks away from the intersection where he fixed the stop sign, was not damaged. But he said a cousin’s house was destroyed.

“It’s a lot of people who live around here and times are already trying enough,” Walker said.

“So now that they’re houses are destroyed, I just feel ever worse for them. It’s just tough on everybody. These are their homes, where they live.”

Tonya Daniel, Rachel Daniel’s mother, said she was in her daughter’s car on L.L. Anderson Avenue when the rainfall intensified to a point that caused her alarm.

She parked and watched the storm rage around her. It blew out the back window of the vehicle but she feared it could have been worse.

“It started raining real bad,” Tonya Daniel said. “Something just told me to park. And I parked in somebody’s yard. I saw nothing but roofs flying over me. Trees getting knocked down in front of me. It was so much going on, so much destruction going on around me while I was in the car. My car shook a little bit. But all that wind, I would think the car would be shaking more. I just prayed please don’t let this car fly away. That’s how bad it was.”