EUFAULA, AL (WSFA) - Driving down North Eufaula Avenue, your eyes can’t help but be drawn to the mountains of tornado debris at Weedon Field and the Northside Fire Station.
“The National Weather Service was here yesterday [Monday] evaluating damage,” said Mayor Jack Tibbs, standing in front of the demolished fire station,.“They said it was a high two, possibly a three [EF-3] based on tornado damage.”
An EF-2 tornado has winds of roughly 111 to 135 miles per hour. Like delicate flowers, those violent winds plucked from the ground heavy concrete pillars that hold down airplane hangers, then wrapped 21 airplanes in steel like presents.
Mayor Tibbs estimates the tornado carved a three mile path of destruction through the northern part of his city in Barbour County.
“Rough estimate, and I don’t know how far off we are, but based on the damage to the egg plant building, all these buildings and the airplanes, probably close to $100 million in damage," Tibbs estimated.
While the early damage estimates are staggering, one thing the mayor is thankful for is not one injury being reported during Sunday’s tornado. That can’t be said of neighbors in nearby Lee County where at least 23 died.
Tibbs is even more thankful two firemen, Lt. Ethan Parrish and Engineer Corey Crozier, are alive because the tornado blew right over them at the fire station.
“They had about a three minute warning. They looked out and saw the tornado coming. They got into the interior bathroom,” the mayor explained. “They opened their eyes and the roof was gone.”
Firefighters are now working out of the airport terminal next door and using a truck on loan from another station because their truck was damaged in the storm. They plan to demolish the building and begin repairs.
Tuesday, engineers from Auburn were taking a closer look at the storm damage at the fire station and airport.
“We think of it like a crime scene. For us, going forensically looking at what has failed and why did it fail, how did it fail, how might we be able to do things differently,” questioned David Roueche, Assistant Professor of Structural Engineering at Auburn University.
The team walked through the debris field taking pictures, getting drone video, and taking measurements of buildings to determine if the designs failed or if they were expected to fail because the winds were too strong.
The team noted one of the newer hangers, built in 2012, that was destroyed will require more evaluation.
“In the case of a building that flipped over, there were potentially some decisions someone made in the original design that could be changed to make things better,” said Justin Marshall, Associate Professor of Civil Engineering at Auburn.
They’ll use the data to look at way to make buildings safer.
“As engineers, our main goal is to provide life safety,” said Marshall. “If there is damage to a building of some sort that the occupants are able to walk away because we can rebuild buildings, but you can’t rebuild a life.”
The crew plans to move to Lee County for assessments once search and recovery from the deadly storm are completed.