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U.S. tornado outbreak: a Canadian eyewitness account


A wind-damaged gas station in Fultondale, Alabama
A wind-damaged gas station in Fultondale, Alabama

Alexandra Pope, staff writer

April 30, 2011 — Chris Glamcevski had no idea that a severe thunderstorm that rolled through the city of Fultondale, Alabama Wednesday night was part of the second-deadliest tornado outbreak in U.S. history.

Fultondale did not experience a tornado, but damaging winds swept through the city
Fultondale did not experience a tornado, but damaging winds swept through the city

It was only after the storm had passed that the Toronto resident, who was in the state on business, was able to take the full measure of the devastation unfolding around him.

“We lost power at the hotel, and I thought, maybe I can go for a quick drive and see if I can pick up candles,” he recalled in a phone interview Saturday.

“I got in the car ... It was dark and policemen were already directing traffic because all the lights were down. There were cars everywhere. I saw gas stations torn up. The roof of the fire hall looked like it had either caved in or blown off. Trees were down.

“I thought, I'd better turn around and stay inside the hotel for now because it was just panic mode.”

Glamcevski spent the night in his dark hotel room and went to work the next day, driving around fallen trees and utility poles “bent like straws.”

Although Fultondale, located about 10 km north of Birmingham, was not hit by a tornado, several surrounding communities were.

“There were people at our plant who had their homes ripped apart,” Glamcevski said. “Everyone was kind of stunned, but grateful that it had passed.”

Toronto resident Chris Glamcevski was in Fultondale the night of the outbreak and captured some of the damage
Toronto resident Chris Glamcevski was in Fultondale the night of the outbreak and captured some of the damage

Glamcevski said the overwhelming mood in Fultondale in the days following the outbreak was one of gratitude as hotels filled up with survivors.

“One of the ladies I work with ... was at home watching the tornado in Tuscaloosa heading towards the shopping mall and talking to her daughter who was in the shopping mall,” Glamcevski said.

“She said it was the worst night of her life.”

The daughter survived, although the mall was virtually flattened.

Glamcevski said he was impressed by the outpouring of support for victims of the outbreak.

One man drove up from Texas with an 18-foot trailer filled with generators to help some of the hundreds of thousands who were left without power. Another local community group came by Glamcevski's hotel with gift bags of colouring books and toys for children sheltering there.

“You've got a lot of people trying to help out -- in some cases so many volunteers, they're turning them away,” he said.

As for Glamcevski himself, he's just grateful to have come through the experience unscathed.

“When I started watching some of the reports, I was amazed at what was going on. I've never seen anything like it in my life,” he said.

“I'm very fortunate I wasn't affected.”

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