Storms hammered the area but didn’t hurt anyone.
A system crawled through the length of Abbeville County, starting at Lake Russell on its way to Greenwood County. The National Weather Service issued a tornado warning at 2:19 p.m. It prompted a call for city staff at the Abbeville Opera House to evacuate to the basement level. Shortly thereafter, a warning siren blared throughout downtown Abbeville. Staff and visitors to the Abbeville Police and Fire Department building hunkered down in interior rooms to wait out the storm.
People traded information on the storm’s progress from Calhoun Falls and Lowndesville, and pondered what it might do as it headed east as rain and hail pounded the buildings.
The answer came at about 3 p.m. with word of an entrapped driver in the Stevenson Road area in eastern Abbeville County and downed trees on road.
Not just a few trees, either. Downed limbs covered hundreds of feet at the 1600 section of Stevenson Road. The forests along the road looked eerily similar to a box of scattered toothpicks.
Officials with the Abbeville County Sheriff’s Department rerouted traffic as fire and rescue crews converged on the area.
Ron Woody got an up-close view of the storm’s wrath as he was trapped in his truck while tree limbs showered down on Stevenson Road.
Woody said he was driving at about 55 mph when tree limbs fell. Suddenly, he was trapped in his vehicle.
“It was very strange that I hit it at that moment,” he said.
Jay Raber, chief of Cold Springs Fire Department, said the first call was about big trees down on Highway 20 between Highway 201 and Noble Drive. Crews were dispatched to that area, then they received the call about a person trapped in a vehicle.
The doors were pried open for him, allowing Woody to escape the vehicle, Raber said.
After he was freed, Woody mingled with the crews as they cleared the road, even breaking out a chain saw he keeps in his truck. Surveying the split trees and limbs on the road, he said “this damage is tornadic.”
Although his truck looked all right after fire and rescue crews cleared away limbs, officials advised him to wait for a tow.
Crews continued to clear the area. One crew member said, “He’ll have a story he can tell for the rest of his life.”
“This is the biggest disaster that we’ve seen yet with the trees,” Raber said. “It appeared to be a tornado or a twister of some kind came through here. We determined that there were probably dozens of trees across on the road and more in the woods that are down.”
Up to 40 crew members responded, Raber said. They were from Cold Springs, Long Cane and Stations 6 and 1, along with Due West Fire and Rescue. The main command post set up at Cold Springs Fire Department on Highway 20. Once the danger was resolved, they would be rerouted to other areas.
The biggest problem they faced is multiple calls, trying to get resources allocated, Raber said. “This was our priority. When there is a person trapped in a vehicle, this is where we send all our resources. No. 1, we’re saving lives.”
While on scene, they were told of the 2000 block of Old Hodges Road, just north of the area. There was another touchdown with multiple trees entangled in power lines, Raber said. On Douglas Mill Road, reports indicated trees were on houses, and power lines down on Highway 203. Crews blocked off the area.
By 4:15 p.m., trees were cleared from the road. “I believe we’re on the uphill side now; we’re across the hill,” he said.
That didn’t mean work was finished. Raber said there still is a lot of debris on driveways, so houses might not be accessible. There also were reports of trees on houses.
Stevenson Road was shut down to traffic from Old Hodges Road to Douglas Mill Road. He said Mackleway Road and Old Hodges Road were not passable because of power lines and downed trees.
The hope was that work clearing roads will be done by dark. Raber said working after dark makes the job worse. Trees on Old Hodges Road were entangled in power lines. Crews can’t touch them until the power company says it is safe to go to the area. That could be hours.
“We have no ETA on when Little River Electric can get out here,” he said. “Safety No. 1. We make sure we’re safe and that the people involved all are safe. We don’t want to put anyone in a much worse place than they already are.”
As of about 8 p.m., Duke Energy reported about 226 customers without power in Abbeville County and 864 without power in Greenwood County. The utility’s outage map predicted power would be restored within 12 hours.
It looked as though Greenwood County fared better than parts of Abbeville, said Greenwood County Emergency Management Coordinator George McKinney. He only received reports of damage around Calhoun Road, where there were damaged storage buildings, and on Pinetree Drive, where some houses were reported damaged. Near Quality Nissan and Quality Kia of Greenwood, McKinney said he saw a house damaged by debris from an outbuilding on the property.
Anyone with damage to report in Greenwood County should call McKinney at 864-942-8553. He said collecting reports of major damage could help in potentially getting government funds to help with repairs.
Pamela Vaughn lives on Pinetree and said she had left home to pick up her son from school, not knowing the schools were sheltering in place and pick-ups would be delayed. On her way home, she said her husband was trying to reach her on her phone as she noticed the weather shift.
“I saw it get dark about three-quarters of a mile from where we live, and I know that’s a bad sign,” she said.
She saw what appeared to be a funnel forming in the clouds, with debris circling in the air just before she heard a tree fall on the roof of her car. She didn’t stop, driving slowly toward her house nearby. The tree striking her roof knocked her sun visor down and left her garage door opener out of reach, so even when she got home it took a while before she was parked under shelter.
The tree had damaged the frame of her car right above where her head was. It’s not uncommon for her to wear Christian-themed clothes, but she said there was something remarkable about her roof withstanding the tree’s blow while she was wearing an “Amazing Grace” sweatshirt.
On nearby Johns Creek Road, Gena Boggero said the storm had dealt a hefty blow to many neighbors. Trees blocked many people in or out of their homes, while others had trees fall on their vehicles and houses. When the brunt of the storm came through, Boggero said the sound was one she’ll remember.
“I’ve never heard a sound like that in my life,” she said. “It was like a jet trying to take off, but without the whining. Just this guttural roar.”
Nate McAlister was working his way down Johns Creek Road with a chainsaw, helping neighbors clear their driveways. He was outside working on his boat when his wife called him to tell him about the incoming storm.
“The news forecast predicted it would hit dead center at our house, and sure enough, it did,” he said.
From inside, he captured the near-horizontal sheets of rain on video.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” he said. “It was cool and pretty freaky at the same time.”