‘Thank God I’m still here’: 5 tornadoes may have hit Orangeburg County | Local

Branchville resident Ashley Pelzer was in her room, just working at her desk, Tuesday night.

She hung up and everything changed.

“I just heard a loud noise,” the Seacrest Lane resident said. “I knew it was raining and it was supposed to be a storm.

“At the beginning, it was not bad.

Suddenly she heard, “Whoo, whoo, whoo, whoo, whoo, whoo, whoop!”

“I was like, ‘What is this? What is this?’ ” she says. “I went to take a look out the window and all I saw were trees and a big gust of wind. I’ve never seen anything like this in my life. The trees were on about to pass through my window.”

Pelzer was crying, so she called her grandmother.

“I’m like ‘Grandma, it hits us here. What am I supposed to do?’ ” she says.

The only thing she could think of was getting into her tub.

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After the storm passed, Pelzer walked through the front door of his mobile home and saw a tree strewn about.

“All I could do was cry and thank God I’m still here,” she said. “I’ve been through a lot, but this one was the scariest. It could have picked up my house.

Pelzer was not alone in her fears.

Her uncle, Thomas Williams, who lives across the street, said he had just finished cooking dinner when he looked out the living room window and saw trees on the ground.

“I just ran and jumped in the tub and started praying,” Williams said. “Next thing I know, the whole house was shaking like it was about to fall off the ground.”

“After a few minutes it just stopped,” he said.

“Thank God I’m still alive,” Williams, 50, said. “It was my first time in a tornado – I’ve seen Hurricane Hugo, but I’ve never been in a tornado.”

The neighborhood was still without electricity early Wednesday afternoon, but Edisto Electric Cooperative teams were on the scene to restore power.

According to County Emergency Services Director Billy Staley, Seacrest Lane, located about five miles north of Branchville, was one of the hardest hit areas in Orangeburg County.

Staley estimates that between eight or 12 structures in the county were damaged by the storms that passed through Tuesday night. He said the county was still assessing the damage.

National Weather Service storm survey crews plan to visit Orangeburg County on Thursday to determine if tornadoes have struck the county

Staley said Wednesday that “the damage is consistent with the track they were following the tornado warning.”

In addition to Seacrest Lane, Greywood Road, the Cattle Creek area and a Bowman solar farm also suffered damage. There have been no known reports of deaths or injuries caused by the storm.

The SC Department of Transportation was out on Wednesday, trimming downed trees and clearing roads.

On Wednesday, the Orangeburg County Fire District joined emergency services in investigating storm damage, primarily in the Branchville and Bowman areas. An SC emergency management official also joined the damage assessment investigation.

Staley said he has yet to see anything that would qualify for Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster funds.

Despite the damage, Orangeburg County Administrator Harold Young said the county was “blessed” because many of the tornadoes spotted on radar did not touch down.

“The places where this happened are more rural areas, so we thank God the places didn’t see fit to fall into heavily populated areas,” Young said.

According to Young, preliminary estimates indicate there were five tornadoes in Orangeburg County on Tuesday.

“It’s a much better situation than we had during the last round of tornadoes we had several years ago,” Young said. In April 2020, two people died when their mobile home overturned.

Staley reminded residents “to heed warnings, watch the weather and have a plan.” Spring can bring bad weather and tornadoes to South Carolina.

Young praised the work of Orangeburg County volunteer firefighters, first responders, the sheriff’s office, public works and emergency medical services in responding to the storms.

Young said the county, through the county council, is able to use its own resources to respond rather than having to contract out services.

During Tuesday’s storms, Russell Byrd, a resident of Greywood Road, was at home and heard “a lot of wind, a lot of noise”.

He took refuge in his bathroom.

The first thing that came to mind was, “Here we go again.

“I had been through the last tornado in 2008. It looks like a train,” he said.

Sharlene Williams, who lives on Freedom Road, about five miles north of Branchville, left her mobile home to go to her church in Branchville for shelter.

Back home, Williams said she was surprised. His property was cordoned off with tape due to the breakdown of power lines.

“It was devastating,” Williams said. “Lord, I’ve never seen anything like it personally. There was a lot of wind blowing. It was a scary moment.

Hilliary McAlhany, who lives opposite Sharlene Williams, said she and her mother hid in the bathroom of their home when the storm hit.

“A gust of wind came,” McAlhany said. “It was like ‘Shoo’ coming in through the windows. It’s an old house.

“We didn’t realize how bad it was until we were walking and saw the tree that fell,” McAlhany said. “I was very worried because it’s an old house. If it was worse it probably would have ripped the whole roof off, but luckily it was so fast. It probably lasted five or six seconds, then it was gone.

The storm knocked a tree over her mother’s vehicle, shattering the rear window. The roof of the house collapsed over the kitchen and a back room. The storm also blew out some of the windows in the house.

McAlhany’s neighbor’s carport was damaged and one of the windows of a vehicle under the structure was shattered.

Jasper Summers, who also lives across from McAlhany, was not home when the storm hit. He was notified of the damage to his property shortly after 7 p.m.

The storm imploded some of the windows in his house as well as the garage door. Shingles were also torn from the roof.

“The tornado moved through my area,” Summers said. “When I got home I was very surprised. It could have been worse because a lot of those big trees could have fallen the other way. They definitely could have reached the house.

Summers’ 1979 Chevrolet truck wasn’t so lucky.

“I got my old truck going about two months ago,” Summers said. “It works. I was driving right after fixing it. Now it’s happened to him.

Cleaning up is going to be a lot of work, he said

“I have to cut and move all of this,” he said.

The Orangeburg Utilities Department reported no major power outages during the storms, noting that most severe storms moved south of the utility’s electrical service area.

As of Wednesday morning, Edisto Electric Cooperative reported 284 customers without power in Bamberg County and 34 customers without power in Orangeburg County.

The National Weather Service has confirmed that a storm that moved out of Lexington County and into Calhoun County was an EF1 tornado. An EF1 tornado has winds between 86 and 110 mph.

Calhoun County Emergency Services Director David Chojnacki said no structural damage was reported in the county.

Chojnacki said there were trees on Savany Hunt Creek Road, Calhoun Hills Road, the frontage road near the eastbound Interstate 26 rest area, Old State Road and on Plantation Estates Lane.

Preliminary investigation showed the storm appeared to follow the Lexington-Calhoun County line on Savany Creek Road and traced a line to Plantation Estates Lane. Chojnacki estimates the length of the damage to be about three to four miles.

“There were clearly trees that were uprooted and trees that were snapped,” Chojnacki said. “A couple blocked the road. The Sandy Run Fire Department was clearing the roads.

As of Wednesday morning, Chojnacki said all roads in Calhoun County were clear and passable.

Chojnacki encouraged Calhoun County residents to sign up for CodeRED alerts by texting “calhounema” to 99411. He said the Code Red Alert system saw heavy use during Tuesday’s storms. Those unable to text can contact the Calhoun County Library at 803-874-3389.

Heavy rain fell in thunderstorms on Tuesday.

About 1.16 inches of rain fell at Orangeburg Municipal Airport.

Other Tuesday storm precipitation totals provided by Weather Gauge volunteers include:

• 2.28 inches at a station about 7 miles west of Santee

• 2.16 inches at station about 5 miles east of north

• 1.91 inches at the station two miles north of Denmark

• 1.76 inches at a station 2 miles east of Santee

• 1.46 inches at station 4 miles northeast of Cope

• 1.42 inches at a station about 4 miles east of Swansea

• 1.31 inches at station about 2 miles west of Elloree

• 1.20 inches at a station about 3 miles west of Holly Hill

By Thursday, a cold front will push through the region, with possible thunderstorm development in the late morning or early afternoon. Dry air should enter quickly.

The weekend and early next week are expected to be sunny with a warming trend.

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