Keisha LeAnn Cross Godsey, 34, and Justin Chase Godsey, 35, were killed in Monday night’s tornado in Lawrence County. Their son, Landen, 7, is being treated at Children’s Hospital in Birmingham.
By Michael Wetzel, The Decatur Daily,
Town Creek’s mayor says the community’s two storm sirens didn’t emit a warning before the killer tornado struck last week, but officials said they wouldn’t have been heard in the impacted area even if they had sounded.
“I know they didn’t go off,” Mayor Mike Parker said. “And if they did it wouldn’t have helped out there.”
The area where the EF2 tornado struck along Lawrence County 265, southeast of Town Creek, is too far away from the sirens, which have a 1-mile sound radius, according to Lawrence County Emergency Management Agency Director Johnny Cantrell.
“He’s right,” Parker said of the sound range. “And if the tornado had been a half-mile north of where it hit, hundreds of people would have been killed.”
Cantrell said the siren system is based on a concept that’s 50 to 60 years old, and he favors having a severe weather app so residents in a storm’s path can be notified via their smartphones. He said he will continue to look at more modern notification systems and look for money to fund the application.
District 1 Commissioner Jesse Byrd, Parker and Cantrell met Friday afternoon with Alabama EMA Director Brian Hastings. “We’ve agreed we need some software update for the sirens,” Parker said.
Hastings could not be reached for comment.
“There’s really nothing he could do about helping,” Byrd said. “Until it is declared a disaster there won’t be any money available.”
Byrd said the storm was isolated and he didn’t expect any state or federal aid will come to the county.
According to a survey led by the National Weather Service in Huntsville, the EF2 tornado touched down at 5:08 p.m. Dec. 16 near Alabama 101, south of Town Creek, went over Brookspring Mountain and dipped down again for a couple of hundred yards before destroying everything in its maximum 370-yard-wide path along Lawrence County 265. It killed two people and seriously injured four more.
The mayor said Landen Godsey, the 8-year-old boy injured in the tornado that claimed the lives of his parents, is improving at Children’s Hospital in Birmingham. “He’s much better but still critical,” Parker said. “And the other three are holding their own.”
Also hospitalized are Wayne and Rhonda Lovett, who are at UAB Hospital, and Marcus Johnson, who is at Huntsville Hospital.
Parker said one of his town’s two sirens is the railroad track at Main Street, a couple of hundred yards from Town Hall, and the other is about 3 miles south of town at the corner of Lawrence County 141 and Alabama 101.
Parker said the sound from the Alabama 101 siren would not have carried over Brookspring Mountain and is too far from Lawrence County 265 to have been heard. “It is a little closer to (Lawrence County) 265 but still too far away,” Parker said. “Maybe if you were standing outside (on 265) on a clear day you might be able to hear it, but it was raining and storming and people aren’t going to be outside in those conditions.”
The downtown siren is nearly 3 miles from the impacted area of Lawrence County 265. In a straight line, the Alabama 101 siren is less than 2 miles away but the mountain between the two areas would have muted some of the sound, Cantrell and Parker agreed. Cantrell said the siren system is known as the outdoor warning siren system.
“We tested the sirens that morning and Mayor Parker said they sounded,” Cantrell said. “We’re still investigating if they didn’t go off when the storm was approaching. There could have been a technical difficulty.” He said his office set off the primary system two times and backup system once as the storm approached Lawrence County. Cantrell said the Lawrence County EMA social media page posted at 4:02 p.m. Dec. 16, about an hour before the storm hit Town Creek, that the storm siren in the Loosier community, 6 miles northwest of Moulton along Alabama 157, was not working.
“The outdoor warning siren in the Loosier community is having technical issues please rely on local television and radio stations as well as weather radios and any cellular device apps that are for your area. thank you,” the post read. Parker and Cantrell said it is critical that when bad weather is in the area, residents stay weather aware and tune into local television and radio stations for severe weather updates.
Byrd also is concerned that North Courtland remains the lone municipality in Lawrence County without a storm shelter. “Something needs to be done about that,” he said. “If people in North Courtland wanted to go to a nearby shelter, they wouldn’t have that option.” Currently, the closest storm shelter to the area just north of North Courtland, where a tornado damaged homes and downed trees along Lawrence County 150, is at Coffey Park in Courtland, more than 3 miles away. Byrd is working to have a few rolloff dumpsters placed along Lawrence County 265 to help in the cleanup process.