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Houston County Courier - Local News

Copyright 2012 - Polk County Publishing Company

Twister steals Christmas
Houston County Courier

By Jenna Duncan
News Reporter

It wasn’t the grinch, but a powerful twister that stole Christmas from some Houston County families. In just 10 minutes on Christmas morning, an EF3 tornado ripped through seven miles of southern Houston County leaving a business, nine houses, two mobile homes and several barns in its path destroyed or damaged, but did not cause a single injury, Houston County Emergency Management Coordinator David Lamb said. Around five minutes after the first tornado dissipated, a second tornado hit the ground nearly across the street, but just damaged trees and was classified as a EF0 tornado, reaching speeds between 60 and 85 miles an hour. The initial tornado, which traveled southwest to northeast in a path that was about 300 yards wide, started about a mile southwest of Pennington, crossing US 287 and causing substantial damage on CR 4550. It peaked at a speed of 150 mph, Lamb said, referencing a report from the National Weather Service. “We were just extremely lucky that nobody was killed, and really that no one was even hurt,” Lamb said. Extreme winds also circulated near Pennington and in Lovelady before and after the funnels began to form, causing minor damage. For example, a portion of the Lovelady State Bank roof wound up in a neighboring yard. TD’s Liquor Store near the intersection of SH 19 and Pumpkin Vine Rd. in Trinity County and a nearby also sustained roof damage. Two single family houses, two mobile homes and Shotwells Farm and Feed are considered total losses, and a few of the six houses that are currently classified as severely damaged may not salvageable, Lamb said. Another house sustained minor damage, and several barns were destroyed in addition to hundreds of downed trees. Bob Shotwell, owner of Shotwells Farm and Feed, said he watched from his home about a quarter mile behind the store while his wife and children hid in the bathroom. The sky was pitch black and he saw the funnel coming toward the home. He thought their home was in the tornado’s path. “There was a time there that I knew we were gone,” he said. “Just knew it, and I saw that little bit of light and realized it was turning away from us. It’s an experience I’ll never forget.” The next thing he saw was the tornado headed toward the store, and saw power lines thrown before realizing his 9,000 square foot business, and its adjoining 4,000 square foot restaurant, were gone. Though he watched his business of more than a decade demolished into debris, he said he thought it was a Christmas miracle that he and his family were unharmed. “You just look - one minute it’s here and the next second it was gone,” he said. “It was just that quick and hard, and I’ve been in a lot of stuff in my lifetime, but I’ve never been in nothing that drastic. If a miracle ever happened, I witnessed one yesterday.” Even Lamb, an experienced firefighter who has served as fire marshal and emergency management coordinator for 15 years, said the scene was ominous. “(It was) pretty spooky, I mean really,” he said. “You’re sitting there looking, and know what you’ve already had and you’re not really sure if there’s any more of them coming.” Lamb left his home at 9:32 a.m. to go to the scene, just seven minutes after the tornado hit land. Along with deputies from the Emergency Management Office, Pennington Fire Department, Groveton Fire Department and Houston County Sheriff’s Office reported to the scene immediately. First, the responders worked to see if anyone was injured, before calling the Texas Department of Transportation to clear the roads and Houston County Judge Erin Ford to alert him of the storm. Ford arrived soon after to survey the damage and try and help, Lamb said. Officials then alerted the Houston County Electric Cooperative, where monitors first noticed outages beginning with the severe winds around 8 a.m., dispatcher Miguel Benavides said. After the storm subsided, about 3,000 homes were without power, Benavides said. By 11 a.m., 20 crews had been dispatched to fix the lines and restore power. About half of the outages were able to be fixed within hours, but about 1,250 remained powerless overnight. This was because of problems with one of the energy suppliers, Entergy, leaving major points in Trinity and Ferguson without power. Entergy crews were dispatched the next morning, and restored electricity by about 5 p.m. Though a few meters did not have power immediately after this, Benavides said it was because of problems with the customer’s meter, not the power lines. The following day, two responders from the National Weather Service Houston/Galveston office surveyed the damage, and declared the strength of the tornados and examined their paths. Initial calls to the office were not returned by presstime. Ford and Lamb have completed a disaster declaration to send to the state, and Lamb is completing a disaster summary outline which details the extent of damages. Lamb said he expects the local district coordinator for Texas Emergency Management to survey the damage in the upcoming days, which will determine what aid the state can provide. Meanwhile, those affected will work with their insurance companies, if they have them, and begin restoration and cleanup. On Wednesday, Dec. 26, Shotwell and his family were already sifting through debris where his store once stood looking for valuables like his titles and deeds, as well as anything else still in tact. With two toilets as the only things still attached in their original place before the storm, he is unsure if he will rebuild. “I don’t know what I’m going to do,” Shotwell said. “It’s just so devastating that this happened, at this age in my life. I just can’t see - I don’t know.”


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