A home in west Pickens shows the effects of the tornadoes which hammered the northwestern corner of the state Wednesday. Advanced warning which pushed many people to take early shelter plus "total luck," according to one emergency official, lead to no significant injuries here in the wake of the violent storms. Photos/ Damon Howell.
By Angela Reinhardt
Thursday morning, residents of the Henderson Mountain Road area surveyed destruction left by tornadoes that ripped through part of west Pickens overnight, destroying numerous homes and flattening three chicken houses.
Families were out in their driveways at late morning beginning the long process of cleaning up damage, cutting up fallen trees and removing belongings from their mangled homes.
The destructive path of the tornadoes was clearly visible through west Pickens. Hundreds of trees were snapped off at the tops, revealing bright white wood inside.
Officials say Bryant Road, Childers Lane and Henderson Mountain Road were the worst hit areas in the county, but despite extensive damage, no serious injuries have been reported.
According to Pickens County Sheriff’s Office Captain Frank Reynolds, it was “total luck” no one was seriously hurt or killed in the storm that struck in waves Wednesday night into Thursday morning.
Reynolds credited the lack of injury or death to advanced warning which led many to take shelter.
Of area residents interviewed, many of those living in mobile homes took heed of the warnings and left their homes to stay with friends or family.
Tasha Hightower and her family, who live in a mobile home on Childers Lane, stayed with her in-laws off Big Ridge Road, also in the county’s west end.
“We were in their basement,” she said. “We stayed there that night, but when I came here I just cried.”
The Hightower’s trailer had some blown out windows, and the back deck was seriously damaged, but the home was not devastated.
Also on Childers Lane, Joshua Flowers, several neighbors and family members were cutting up a large tree that had ripped off the end of Flowers’ mobile home. Others were cleaning out personal belongings from inside the house.
“My son lives here,” said Joshua’s mother, who lives off Jerusalem Church Road in Cherokee County. “But they stayed with me last night. This area’s been hit before, so they knew to leave.”
The mother said Joshua came home to change before coming to her house.
“He just missed it by 20 minutes,” she said. “It was a little after seven, I think, when it came though. It was before dark, I know that.”
Many neighbors and family stayed at Ray Brendel’s home, a large, stable structure on Childers Lane that sustained only minor damage from the tornadoes.
But three of his six chicken houses were completely destroyed, with Brendel estimating 80,000 chickens dead from the damage.
“It was kind of loud wind at first,” he said, guessing the tornado came through at around ten o’clock. “I really don’t know exactly. I’m a little confused right now,” he said. “But then the sound turned into a loud roar, and I started hearing hail and a big crash. Then in five seconds it was done.”
Brendel said he has lived on the same farm all his life and remembers the Palm Sunday tornadoes that passed through the area in 1994.
“But we’ve never got this much damage,” he said. “Before we just had a tree fall in the yard.”
On Henderson Mountain Road, Angel Gonzalez said her parents and two other people had been stuck in their demolished home for somewhere between 30 minutes and an hour-an-a-half while emergency crews worked to free them from under the collapsed the roof.
According to Gonzalez, her father said the home occupants were sitting in the house watching television, and “the roof just lifted up and crashed back in on them. There was nothing they could do,” she said.
Those trapped inside were Dennis and Mildred Hancock, and Elizabeth and Wendy Watkins.
Gonzalez pointed to the shell of the home on Henderson Mountain road, saying it once extended further. Sections of the house, including the kitchen, are “just gone,” Gonzalez said.
She said she was shocked to see the damage and learn that all four people trapped inside the home were rescued without injury.
According to Capt. Reynolds, one Bryant Road home saw 16 neighbors sheltered in one basement.
The county reported 61 people sought refuge prior to the storm in the government-provided emergency shelter within the County Admin Building on East Church Street in Jasper.
Though the exact number of homes confirmed to be totally destroyed is not yet known, officials presently estimate that number at more than a dozen with many more homes missing roofs and taking minor damage.