A preliminary bulletin issued by Alabama Emergency Management Agency late Thursday reported that there were 17 confirmed deaths in Coffee County and one confirmed death in Wilcox County due to damage caused by tornadoes that cut a swath through southern Alabama as it made its way to the east and north.
Alabama Gov. Bill Riley immediately declared a state of emergency in Coffee County where the Enterprise High School was destroyed. Riley has sent approximately 100 National Guardsmen to the site, along with EMA personnel, state Highway Patrolmen, and lights and generators.
The March 1 AEMA bulletin reported 13 Alabama counties reported damage from the storm including Lamar, Coffee, Wilcox, Dale, Henry, Covington, Dallas, Tuscaloosa, Jefferson, Winston, Russell, Lauderdale and Lowndes.
Ragan Ingram, a spokesman for the Alabama Insurance Commission said Commissioner Walter Bell is en route this morning to Enterprise with a stop-off in Camden (Wilcox County).
Ingram said his office has contacted all of the major insurers in the region including Alfa, Allstate, Farmers and State Farm: “Adjusters are currently moving into the affected areas,” he said.
According to Ingram, a deputy state fire marshal, on the Insurance Commission’s staff and a resident of Enterprise, was struck by flying debris during Thursday’s storm as the back window of his cruiser blew out. The marshal’s injuries were not serious and Ingram said he is on duty in Enterprise today.
The Commission will deploy consumer specialists to the area on Monday according to Ingram. He said the team will be on hand in affected areas to provide assistance with policies, forms and general insurance issues.
According to the initial figures, 21,400 Alabama Power customers are without electricity and 5,000 customers serviced by the Alabama Rural Electric Cooperative have no electricity in the wake of the storm. Most of Coffee County is supplied by AREC.
A shelter was opened at the First Baptist in Enterprise (Coffee County).
EMA officials have sent representatives to Wilcox County, but indicate that County officials have requested no further assistance.
Thursday afternoon the Alabama Department of Transportation reported that deployed crews began providing initial reports indicating that the Enterprise High School gym had collapsed and ‘multiple’ people were trapped. ALDOT reported power lines were down and debris rendered downtown roads and Boll Weevil Circle impassable.
“Enterprise has suffered major and widespread damage. The state is and will continue to offer all available assistance,” Riley said.
An assessment team from the Federal Emergency Management Agency arrived on the scene today. The ADEA has deployed a search and rescue team from Dothan. State highway patrol and ambulances are also assisting.
“I am truly sorry that the people of Alabama have had to endure these storms today,” said Governor Riley. “I am committed to providing all of our residents with any assistance they may need.”
The governor sent approximately 100 National Guardsmen to Enterprise to assist in recovery efforts. Additional troops are standing by. Medical units in helicopters from nearby Fort Rucker were on the scene as early as Thursday afternoon.
The Coffee County EMA has set up a staging area in front of Enterprise City Hall, and a heavy equipment staging area is set up at the Enterprise Big Lots on Boll Weevil Circle.
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