Strong storms and a tornado ripped through Columbia County Friday, leaving some homeless and causing damages estimated at nearly $300,000.
The severe weather swept into the county at about 10:30 p.m. when a resident reported that a tornado had touched down on Browns Road near Harlem High School.
The brunt of damage occurred at Browns, Intermediate and Louisville roads near Harlem and in Grovetown, where some mobile homes were damaged. Crews worked during the weekend to clear downed power lines and remove trees from roadways.
"We count ourselves very lucky," said county Emergency and Operations Director Pam Tucker. "There's a lot of damage, but it can be repaired. We didn't have any loss of life, at least in our county."
A motorist in Aiken was killed and a Burke County man was injured during the storm.
An assessment team from the National Weather Service toured the area Saturday and determined that a microburst caused heavy damage on Browns Road with winds of 95 mph, Tucker said. Numerous trees and power lines were downed and property damage was reported. The damage in that area was estimated at $65,000.
The assessment team determined that a category EF-1 tornado touched down past Browns Road around Louisville Road. Damages there were estimated at about $160,000. The tornado later caused more damage in Grovetown.
The McNairs, who live on Louisville Road near Wrightsboro Road, were at home when the twister hit and are thankful no one was seriously injured.
The couple was sitting inside the home, which was built in 1923, with their son and his girlfriend.
"I heard it coming," said Jimmy McNair, who has lived in the house for 73 years. "It sounded like a train rolling."
The McNair's two horses, two cats, dog and mule also were unscathed by the storm.
The storm caused substantial damage to their 62-acre property. A large tree, which the family believes to be about 150 years old, fell onto their porch and protruded through the ceiling in the dining room. Winds of up to 105 mph also blew the roof off the barn, damaged two storage buildings, and knocked a tree onto McNair's 1968 Ford pickup truck.
Friends, family and members of the McNairs' church, Philadelphia United Methodist, came to their home Saturday, bringing food and assistance. Their daughter, Marie McNair-Jackson, lives across the street with her husband and daughter. She said at least 15 large trees fell in their yard.
"We are lucky to be alive," she said.
When the tornado moved through Grovetown, mobile homes were damaged or trees downed on Pippin, Barbara, School, Ford, Cannock and James streets and Old Berzelia Road. Damages in Grovetown were estimated at $70,000.
Sharonda Dorsey, 28, was gathering some personal belongings Saturday inside the mobile home she's renting at the Midtown Trailer Park on Barbara Street. Dorsey said she and her two sons will stay with her mother in Grovetown.
A large tree struck her 1999 Buick Regal and damaged her kitchen. She was left without power or water.
"It sounded like people were taking buckets of rocks and just throwing them at the trailer," Dorsey said of the golf ball-size hail that pelted her mobile home.
She said the storm left her sons, ages 6 and 1, extremely frightened.
"The only thing I knew to do was run and hide," she said. "I was just asking the good Lord, 'Please don't take us like this.'"
Rogelio Ferraro was watching television in the living room of his mobile home at Pippin and Barbara streets when the lights started flashing and he heard rumbling. A tree then came through his roof, he said, and hit him on the head.
"That was some scary stuff," he said. "You don't think it can happen to you."
The storm strengthened as it continued eastward, and at least one man died in South Carolina.
"We were under a tornado warning at the time that our damages occurred," Tucker said, "so the (National) Weather Service did a real good job in calling that and gave people a lot of advance notice."
Government-aided disaster relief won't be required for the county, Tucker said Monday.
"All of our damage is privately insured," she said.
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