Meridian Star

Local News

April 30, 2014

No doubts

Tornado likely cause of Decatur damage

DECATUR —     DECATUR — Mike Skinner was huddled in the hallway of his home on Country Club Road with his wife, their three children and his mother and father-in-law about 8:30 p.m. Monday when what was likely a tornado ripped the roof off around them.

    "It was terrifying," Skinner said. "Nobody was hurt though. That's the main thing."

    Tuesday morning, Skinner and neighbors at about a half dozen nearby homes were tacking tarps on damaged rooftops and clearing downed trees from their properties.

    Across nearby State Road 503, scores of people were sifting through debris from the Decatur Country Club, where trees were ripped up and buildings were flattened.

    Decatur Police Chief Jody Pennington said the worst damage was on Country Club Road and Chapel Hill Road.

    "We don't know how many homes were damaged yet but there were a lot of them," Pennington said. "We are still assessing the damage."    

    National Weather Service meteorologist Daniel Lamb said Tuesday afternoon there were roughly 10 areas in the state possibly struck by tornadoes spawned by the storm believed to have claimed at least 12 lives in Mississippi.

    National Weather Service crews were on scene Tuesday at some of the areas hardest hit by tornadoes, such as in Louisville where an EF-4 tornado caused major damage and claimed several lives and in Tupelo where it was reported that about 2,000 homes and 100 businesses were damaged or destroyed.

    And although he couldn't be certain that the damage in Decatur, the seat of Newton County, was caused by a tornado, Lamb believes it likely was.

    Using new radar technology that allows meteorologists to detect storm debris in the atmosphere, "We were able to see some of the debris lofted up last night. We are confident some of the damage over there in Newton County was caused by a tornado."

    Skinner's neighbor, Sonny Upton, said there is no doubt in his mind that the damage to his roof was caused by a tornado.

    Upton was in a hallway with a friend when the storm struck.

    "It was just a roar," Upton said. "I felt the house shaking and I thought, 'This is it.'"

    A mile down the road, men and women were busy clearing fallen trees and debris from a demolished shop and large barn outside the home of Vicky and Randy Ferguson.

    The storm ripped a portion of the roof from their home and busted out windows.

    "We were inside and my husband was standing by the back door when he said he heard tree limbs breaking," Vicky Ferguson said. "He said, 'It's coming."

    By early afternoon large piles of wood, limbs and tin were stacked along the property and crews with heavy equipment were busy clearing the remainder of the debris.

    "My husband works for a lumber company and his co-workers had their equipment over here by 9 o'clock last night," Vicky Ferguson said as she swiped at a tear drop. "We have really good friends."

    After striking the subdivision along Country Club Road, the storm crossed State Road 503 and slammed into the Decatur Country Club, heavily damaging or destroying about 90 of the 140 garage-like buildings that house golf carts.

    Concrete block bathrooms in the pump house adjacent to the pool were leveled and golf clubs and balls were scattered across the golf course fairways. An estimated 40 large trees on the golf course were either uprooted or snapped in half by the storm.

    Meridian resident Jim Cantey's golf cart was housed in one room of a row of golf cart houses that were demolished, with several golf carts upended, covered in debris or destroyed.

    "My cart was in that row right there," Cantey said, pointing to a pile debris. The golf house is gone but my cart never got a scratch on it."

    Kenny Clarke, the former president of the Decatur Country Club, said the golf course has about 265 members. He's worried about the time it will take to get the course up to par.

    "It could take a long time," Clarke said. "I just hope we don't lose members."

    Course Superintendent Mike Anderson said he didn't know how long it will be before the golf course reopens, but he is hoping it will only be a matter of weeks.

    "Debris is probably scattered a quarter of a mile," Anderson said. "There's tin scattered all the way across four fairways and across a man's pasture. He's got cows next to it. He's got three or four trees on the fence line between us and him and his cows were on one of the fairways when I got here this morning."

    Lamb said the same storm that struck Newton County likely trekked into Lauderdale County and downed trees in the communities of Collinsville, Martin and Bailey. Many roads in those communities were impassable and residents had to detour around them.

    Pennington was relieved no one was injured in Newton County.

    "We were blessed," Pennington said.

    Skinner is thankful as well. The storm ripped the roof off the three bedrooms where he, his wife and children sleep.

    "I am just glad it struck when it did," Skinner said. "If it had been late at night, we would have been in those rooms."

    Asked if he heard the sound of a train before the likely tornado struck, Skinner said he did not.

    "I didn't hear anything but I felt it," Skinner said. "I was standing with my back against the wall and my T-shirt was pulled away from my back and popped back. I got this feeling like you do when you are on a roller coaster and you are at the top, and then all of a sudden, you go whoosh."

    Early Tuesday evening, meteorologists were bracing for another round of storms.

    "Fortunately tonight doesn't look quite as rough as yesterday did," Lamb said. "But we could see some nasty storms with the potential for more tornadoes."

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