‘Significant’ tornado causes destruction in Selma

Published: Jan. 12, 2023 at 12:57 PM CST|Updated: Jan. 13, 2023 at 1:13 PM CST
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SELMA, Ala. (WSFA) - A significant, long-track tornado crossed central Alabama Thursday, causing devastation across multiple counties as it made its way east. Perhaps hardest hit was the historic city of Selma in Dallas County.

Looking out from busy Broad Street shows extensive damage to businesses and structures in every direction. The tornado that made a direct hit on downtown may have been a high-end EF2 or EF3 and lifted debris as high as at least 16,000 feet into the air, based on radar and reports.

About two dozen people were reportedly injured but there were no known fatalities as of Friday afternoon. Dallas County EMA Director Toya Stiles said search and rescue efforts will continue throughout Friday.

Selma officials have called this a “disaster area.” Many roads are blocked with storm debris in Selma, as well as throughout the county.

EMA officials were not able complete their assessments Thursday due to the downed trees on roadways. Officials advised residents that live powerlines could still be on the ground.


The Dallas County Jail was hit by the tornado. The Sheriff’s Association moved inmates to other counties’ facilities.

Montgomery County Sheriff Derrick Cunningham has already agreed to accept several detainees, saying the MCSO has been “in constant contact with our law enforcement partners in areas impacted by today’s storms,” and that “the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office is ready to provide equipment and resources to assist our neighbors during this difficult time.”

The City of Selma declared a local emergency and confirmed a curfew remains in place from dusk to dawn.

“I never thought I’d have to ride one out but I road one out today,” said Mel Gilmer, the owner of a business on Broad Street. He was inside the office building when the storm hit.

“As I was closing the bathroom door, I saw the windows blow out,” Gilmer recalled. “Five seconds later, I look up in the bathroom and I see sky.”

Gilmer, who said he’s lucky to have survived, had to climb out of the rubble of the flattened building through part of the roof.

The tornado also passed close to Selma High School, but school officials later confirmed no students were injured. The school opened as an overnight shelter.


U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, a Selma native, said she was “devastated and heartbroken by the tornado damage in my hometown of Selma and throughout the Black Belt,” and said her office had already started coordinating a federal response.

“I have spoken with the White House, FEMA, and the Small Business Administration as well as state and local officials including Alabama EMA about securing disaster assistance and expediting all available resources,” Sewell said. “I will be arriving in Selma tonight to survey the damage myself and assist with recovery efforts.”

“I am keeping my constituents and all those affected in my prayers. The people of the Black Belt are strong, and we will get through this together!”

During a Friday morning news conference, Selma officials said organizations and volunteers are needed to to help private property owners with debris cleanup.

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