By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
A storm system that moved into the Atmore area around 7:30 a.m. Thursday, April 23, dumped several inches of rain on the city, overwhelming flood-prone streets, and brought stiff winds, some apparently of the straight-line variety, that wreaked havoc on trees, farm equipment and small buildings.
Still, it was another “not as bad as it could have been” storm. Over the past 16-18 months, numerous storms — many of which were projected to do major damage in Atmore and the surrounding area — have given the community a meteorological slap in the face but have moved on without causing serious injury.
Thursday’s weather upheaval began around 7:30, when a rapidly moving system of thunderstorms struck the fringe of the Poarch reservation, then moved quickly toward I-65’s Exit 57. Trees along the storm front lost their limbs, and some fell to the ground or across power lines. Both of those occurrences were expected.
What was not expected was the blustering winds that continued past the interstate exit and into the Robinsonville area. The compacted, swift-moving storm toppled a tree on Green Acres Road, picked up an irrigation system off Helton Road and slammed it back to earth, and farm outbuildings surrendered their roofs or walls to the storm.
Another thing that forecasters got right was anticipation of heavy rains as the system roared through at more than 50 mph.
Most of East Craig Street was under water shortly after the rains began in earnest. South Presley Street was roped off with yellow police tape at its intersection with Craig, and Craig was also roped off from Main Street to Presley.
Yellow caution ribbons were also placed on 1st Avenue and Beck, Horner and Church streets portions of several other streets in the city’s southeastern sector.
Police Chief Chuck Brooks pointed out that the flooded streets were nothing unusual, that even the smallest storms had the capability of overwhelming the city’s ancient drainage system.
“A large amount of water fell in a short time, and these areas are problematic anyway,” said Brooks as he manned a checkpoint on Craig Street. “They flood even in the summer, if we get one of those pop-up storms. It only takes a little bit to flood a lot of them.”
The police chief said several vehicles had to be pushed off the roadways after their drivers ignored the tape, drove through the standing water and became disabled. He offered appreciation to city firefighters, who helped with that problem and with traffic control around flooded locations.
Brooks also praised Calvin Grace and the city’s Streets & Sanitation employees for their work in helping the water go down at a more rapid pace.
“I want to give a shoutout to our street department,” he said. “They were out there, sweeping debris out of and off the drains, helping clear limbs and doing whatever else they could to help the water go down. And the firemen were a big help.”
Fire Chief Ron Peebles said AFD personnel were kept hopping throughout the morning hours. He also provided a tutorial for motorists who drive in the downtown area during heavy rainfall.
“The yellow tape is for your safety; it’s not meant for you to drive through,” he said. “That’s why we put the tape up, to let people know it’s not safe to drive through there.”