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Storms, possible tornadoes leave fatalities, wreckage in Alabama, damage in Georgia

Storm Survivor: Club owner, musician nicknamed “Lucky” rides out tornado in his truck

A wave of storms with possible tornadoes ripped through east Alabama and west Georgia on Sunday afternoon, leaving fatalities in its wake. David McBride rode out the storm in his truck, next to The Buck Wild Saloon, which he owns. Here's his story.
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A wave of storms with possible tornadoes ripped through east Alabama and west Georgia on Sunday afternoon, leaving fatalities in its wake. David McBride rode out the storm in his truck, next to The Buck Wild Saloon, which he owns. Here's his story.

A wave of strong storms with possible tornadoes passed through the Chattahoochee Valley on Sunday afternoon, causing fatalities in Beauregard, Ala.

The storm pushed a cell tower across U.S. 280 in Lee County north of a flea market in Smiths Station, where the Buck Wild Saloon and a nearby convenience store were wrecked.

The northern prong of storms moved from east Alabama around 1:30 p.m. into areas along the Muscogee-Harris County line, downing trees and power lines along Biggers Road and other parts of north Columbus.

A second prong later passed south of Columbus from Barbour County, Ala., eastward.

Middle Georgia also was hit by multiple storms, causing damage in several counties and at least one injury.

Because the fallen cell tower in Smiths Station blocked the eastbound lanes of U.S. 280 – the route into Phenix City and Columbus – authorities diverted that traffic into the westbound lanes toward Opelika, creating a two-lane road.

Law enforcement warned residents to stay off the roads, absent an emergency. A traffic accident south of the fallen tower, where Summerville Road reaches U.S. 280, was further clogging traffic.

The worst damage was reported in Beauregard, along Ala. 51 south of Opelika, where homes were destroyed and authorities still were assessing the number of fatalities Sunday night.

In Smiths Station, Buck Wild Saloon owner David McBride had just pulled up in his pickup at the store next door, when the storm struck.

“I seen the trash swirling in the air across the hill over there, and I said ‘Oh no, this ain’t good,’ ” he said of the hill behind the store.

The wind tore through before he could park, hurling debris from the store onto his truck. “The tower fell, the Buck Wild blew up, and then the store blew onto my truck,” he said.

The roaring wind was like a passing train, so he couldn’t hear the tower crash, nor the buildings come apart, he said. “I couldn’t hear the noise for the train that run through here.”

A man ran from the store and got into McBride’s truck, which held up better than the building. “The windows and the bricks blew out of the front of the store and blew onto the top of my truck,” McBride said.

That was a last-second escape, McBride added, estimating the wind speed at up to 150 mph. “He’s the luckiest man on Earth. He ought to be playing the Lotto tonight.”

The debris hitting his truck so startled him that he jumped out, he said.

“When the store wall blew out on the side of my truck, I opened my door and jumped out, and I said, ‘Now that ain’t very smart,’ so I jumped back in there,” he remembered. “And in a minute the wind died down. It only lasted like a minute and a half or two minutes, and then it was all over.”

McBride said he has a band that played at the Buck Wild Saloon over the weekend, perhaps for the last time. His stage name is “Lucky,” he said. “I did my last show in that building Friday night,” he said. “I think they put it here around ’83.”

He was waiting on an insurance adjuster to inspect the damage.

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