Tornado devastates Downtown Wetumpka

Homes, businesses and churches significantly damaged

Tornado devastates Downtown Wetumpka
Damage at First Baptist Church in Wetumpka. (Source: Kara Lightner)

WETUMPKA, AL (WSFA) - Downtown Wetumpka was significantly damaged by a tornado Saturday afternoon.

The public was asked to stay away from downtown Wetumpka Saturday night to allow first responders to work. A curfew is in effect for the impacted area until 6 a.m. Sunday.

Multiple buildings in downtown Wetumpka were destroyed or significantly damaged. State emergency management officials estimate 35 homes throughout Elmore County were damaged.

Several roads in the downtown area were also covered with debris. Photos showed countless trees and power lines down and vehicles turned over and crushed.

Wetumpka Mayor Jerry Willis said the police station is damaged, and the city’s senior center is destroyed.

He said there is some damage on the east side of the Coosa River, but the worst of the damage is on the west side.

One of the buildings destroyed was the historic First Presbyterian Church. The mayor said it was the most painted building in Wetumpka, and people came from all over to paint the church and the nearby Bibb Graves Bridge.

First Baptist Church was also damaged.

“It’s tough. It’s tough. When you love a place like we do, and we’ve worked so hard to move this city forward, and to be devastated like this, you know, we just have to recharge our batteries and go back and redo and put it all back together again," Willis said. "God has a plan. We don’t always know what God’s plan is always, but we’ll come together as a community and we’ll be better. I promise you we’ll be better because of this and it hurts.”

The mayor said he’s concerned about the Bibb Graves Bridge, which crosses the Coosa River.

“I’ve contacted the state. We will have the inspectors, and we’ll look at the bridge. If you look at the last three globes on the lamp post on this end of the bridge, it took all of that off. We don’t know if this tornado if part of it came under the bridge so structurally we don’t know. We’ve asked them to come inspect the bridge and make sure it’s safe before we open it back up,” Willis said.

Willis said he was notified of one minor injury. Also, four people who were trapped in a basement were rescued.

Alabama Power confirmed about 2,000 customers were without service in Wetumpka after the storm, and crews were evaluating the damage.

Elmore County EMA Director Keith Barnett said the tornado came right through Wetumpka’s downtown - blocks from where he grew up. His agency is helping coordinate the assistance.

“It’s going to be a long process. First steps are to try and get the roadways clear, get the utilities back up and running, and start debris removal, and then we’ll go from there,” Barnett said.

Gov. Kay Ivey said she deployed state personnel to assist authorities in Elmore County.

THE STORM

The National Weather Service issued a tornado warning for the storm that hit Wetumpka at 2:44 p.m. While we don’t officially know what time the tornado hit Wetumpka, WSFA 12 News is estimating (based on radar) that it hit downtown at 2:54 p.m.

The National Weather Service will conduct a storm survey Sunday.

A tornado was caught on one of WSFA 12 News' cameras in Wetumpka while the First Alert Weather Team was tracking the storm:

Damage also was confirmed in other parts of Elmore County and Autauga County.

Part of North Ann Street in Eclectic was closed due to low hanging power lines.

Autauga County Sheriff Joe Sedinger says a mobile home overturned near the Independence community, but no injuries were reported.

HOW TO HELP

Barnett said anyone who wants to volunteer to help with the recovery should monitor the Elmore County EMA and Elmore County Commission on social media for information.

The Central Alabama Community Foundation established the Wetumpka Tornado Relief Fund to assist citizens impacted by the tornado.

To make a donation to the fund, go to www.cacfinfo.org and click on GIVE TODAY and select “Wetumpka Tornado Relief” or mail a check payable to CACF, 114 Church Street, Montgomery, AL 36104, and reference Wetumpka Tornado Relief.

Wetumpka High School opened as a shelter Saturday afternoon.

PHOTOS OF THE DAMAGE

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