A tornado touched down in Jacksonville, Alabama near Jacksonville State University (JSU) on March 19, 2018, and photos and videos circulated of damage and emergency responders racing to the scene. On social media, people described others hiding in bathtubs, injured, and trapped, although these accounts were not verified.
What was verified, by JSU itself, was that a tornado had touched down on the evening of March 19 near the university. There were reports of a second tornado minutes apart from the first one. One woman shared an urgent post to the Jacksonville Fire Department’s Facebook page. “Students trapped in unit 510 of the Reserve in Jacksonville. 911 not answering,” it read. A man wrote on Facebook: “Praying for Jacksonville! Tornado hit just moments ago. State Troopers saying it looks like a war zone.”
Power was out in downtown Jacksonville as news crews raced to the scene. Greg Seitz, the athletic director for JSU, confirmed reports that the coliseum was damaged but said it was not completely destroyed. “Thanks for all the calls, texts and emails and we do have extensive damage in Jacksonville. I can confirm we have major roof damage at Pete Mathews Coliseum, but The Pete is not completely destroyed. We have staff on site and will update as soon as possible,” he wrote on Twitter.
Just after 9 p.m. central time, the university wrote, “Tornado down near JSU. Please get to your safe spaces if you’re in the Jacksonville, AL area.” It was not yet clear how many people were injured. Jacksonville is a city in Calhoun County, Alabama, with a population of just over 12,000 people.
Numerous photos circulated on Twitter after the tornado passed showing damage to buildings in town. People posted urgent messages on social media. “My bestfriend is stuck at the Reservse in Jacksonville right now. Other tenants came to her apartment because theirs was flooding. At her apartment water started coming under the door and out of light sockets. @spann,” wrote one woman on Twitter. A 25-year-old man wrote, “Reporting on the ground from Jacksonville: I’m alive and I assume others are too I guess.”
Some photos showed damage to JSU. Many people offered prayers for Jacksonville and its university on social media. The men’s basketball team was not in town when the tornado struck.
The National Weather Service’s Birmingham office wrote, “CONFIRMED DAMAGING AND POSSIBLY LARGE TORNADO NEAR JACKSONVILLE/CALHOUN COUNTY MOVING EAST INTO NORTHERN CLEBURNE COUNTY. TORNADO WARNING IN EFFECT! TAKE THIS SERIOUSLY AND SHELTER NOW!! #alwx.” The NWS continued, “A SEVERE THUNDERSTORM WARNING REMAINS IN EFFECT UNTIL 1045 PM CDT FOR NORTHEASTERN TALLADEGA AND SOUTHERN CALHOUN COUNTIES…”
In a series of tweets, the Calhoun County, Alabama sheriff said roads were closed and power lines and trees were down. All county schools were closed for March 20, the sheriff reported on Twitter. “Chief Denham has mobilized with some APD officers to assist the city of Jacksonville and the EMA with their emergency operations,” the Anniston Police Department wrote.
There was a calm before the storm.