Survivor of tornado that killed 2 in small Alabama community ‘happy to be alive’

Chaz Johnston, who was awakened early Wednesday by a television station weather warning, got up just in time to hear a tornado headed toward his home on Cobb Lane in the Flatwood community, north of Montgomery.

“I come out and it’s just a wreck. And really devastating to the community,” Johnston said.

The storm blew a storage shed behind Johnston’s house across the street, where it stood with a sofa and other contents in tatters.

Johnston said his home’s carport was gone. But he counted his blessings.

“It could be worse. It could always be worse. I was just lucky to be alive,” Johnston said.

The Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department said a 39-year-old woman and an 8-year-old boy died when a tree fell on their RV on Williams Drive, not far from Johnston’s home.

A man rescued from the same home by Montgomery Fire and Rescue was hospitalized with injuries.

“I didn’t know her personally, but whether you know her or not, it’s still sad,” Johnston said.

“No one deserves this. This whole community is a wreck. It will take a while to put it back together. Right now we’re just trying to get the branches and the trees out of the way and see what we can do from there.”

The preliminary report from the National Weather Service says the storm was an EF-2 tornado with winds of 185 km/h.

Chaz Johnston after tornado at Flatwood

Chaz Johnston stands outside his RV on Cobb Lane in the Flatwood community of Montgomery County hours after a tornado tore through. Authorities say a woman and child died when a tree fell on an RV on Williams Drive in Flatwood. (Mike Cason/[email protected])

Montgomery County Sheriff Derrick Cunningham said he was not aware of any other serious injuries after house-to-house searches of the area.

“We will continue to do this until we are certain that everyone is accounted for,” Cunningham said. “That is our top priority.”

Cunningham urged people to stay away from the area, which was packed with law enforcement, rescue crews, supply crews and others working to secure the area and begin the clean-up effort.

“I really don’t want people to come down and try to see and see,” Cunningham said.

“Roads are still closed. Still clogged. We still have power crews. We got utilities out here. We still have first responders out here. so please Hopefully once we have everything sorted out we can tell you it’s safe. It’s still unsafe at the moment so I urge everyone to stay outside.

Montgomery County Commissioner Isaiah Sankey, whose Flatwood district is a part of, said a siren went off before the storm hit, but only about two minutes before.

Sankey said storm shelters would be part of recovery efforts in the community.

Shelter was set up at the Union Academy Missionary Baptist Church on Lower Wetumpka Road near the devastation on Wednesday.

“We’re here for the long haul,” said Pastor Marcus Boyd.

Boyd said Flatwood is a tight-knit community with residents attending his church and several others nearby. Boyd said people were recovering.

“It will only bring them closer together because I can see them working now,” Boyd said.

Montgomery County Commission Chairman Doug Singleton said there were downed trees, power lines and destroyed barns on Brooks Road, which is east of Flatwood and connects to US 231. Singleton said the county has made a commitment to helping residents clean up the debris.

“We’re going to try to help them put this all together. If they can get it on the road, we’ll pick it up for them and dispose of it for them and take it and tow it,” Singleton said.