Patrick Rigdon was watching the network news Sunday afternoon when he first learned of a tornado near Tuskegee, which is about 60 miles from the single-wide mobile home that he shares with his wife in Smiths Station.
He quickly flipped to the local news, which reported a tornado within 15 miles of his residence, then walked over to the front door to take a look outside.
“The clouds was going every which way. Called the wife over and said ‘see that, that’s odd. I’ve never seen clouds like that before,’” Rigdon recalled. “And about that time, I said within about 60 seconds, so saying that I heard the sound that they always say you’re going to hear, like a freight train.”
The couple, both in their mid-70s, got down on the floor. The mobile home shook violently while the tornado passed across the street, which took about three to five minutes, he said.
“It took a little bit for consciousness to settle in, because it was still raining (outside) at the time. So we just looked out the windows for a little bit,” Rigdon told the Opelika-Auburn News.
“Then when the rain slacked off to just kind of like a drizzle, then we came out and you see what we saw,” he continued, while looking over damage at one end of the mobile home and the broken trees surrounding the property along Lee County Road 318.
Wednesday, crews restored power and continued to work to reconnect the water in areas of the street. A fallen tree behind the mobile home ripped a water line out of the ground.
In front of the mobile home, a white oak tree – which served as the family’s swinging tree for many decades – was uprooted from the storm and already cut down, exposing its years and time shared with the family on the property.
“I don’t try to maintain composure. It’s just like I got two modes. One is I need to do something about this and the other one is, well I can’t do nothing about this. So you just kind of find a spot in the middle and just call the people you need to call and deal with stuff you need to deal with,” Rigdon said.
Across town, along Lee County Road 294 in Smiths Station, Steve Morgan spent Tuesday helping multiple family members clean up after the storm.
His mother, sister, aunt and brother lived in houses and mobile homes adjacent to each other down a portion of the road, and have lived in the area since the late 1960s.
“We realized that we’re family and together you stand, you divide, you fall, you know,” Morgan said. “And we’ve been, our family, trying to get past this, because we know there has to be something better. There’s got to be something better. We just thank God that there isn’t worse than it is, you know; we're still living.”
A mass of tree limbs and other debris continued to grow on the side of the roadway as they cleared and sorted through the rubble.
Storm damage from Sunday, which left his sister’s mobile home in a pile of splinters and caused injury to other relatives' homes, is a situation Morgan has never had to deal with before, he said.
“I know God truly was in the midst because he blessed us to live another day. I just thank, I give him all the praise and all the glory that he deserves,” Morgan said. “And I just thank him for doing what he did. I mean we can replace the trailer, a house and stuff, but we can’t replace a life. God spared them and I just thank him for it.”
Lee County Roads 235, 294, 295, 318, 319 and several other roads were damaged in Sunday’s storm, according to Smiths Station Mayor Bubba Copeland.
“We have had a lot of people that have been displaced due to the storm, and we’re making efforts right now to get it all cleaned up,” Copeland said of the storm damage.
Copeland estimated that around 40-60 homes were left unlivable from damage.
Over the past several days, multiple people who were left homeless have been housed, he said.