Paris and Henry County endured a violent storm in the wee hours Tuesday that left plenty of property damage, but thankfully no injuries.
According to Ronald Watkins, county emergency management director, the county was hit by straight line winds about 4:10 a.m. The storm, which generated winds of 60-80 mph, caused widespread damage in the Paris and Puryear areas.
It’s the second time in less than a week the county has been punished by dangerous weather.
Six days earlier, the county was the site of an EF-1 tornado that did damage in the Springville and Buchanan areas. Thankfully, only one minor injury was reported after that storm, which took place the night of April 28.
“We’re just very fortunate to have two storms and no serious injuries,” Watkins said Tuesday.
Watkins spoke shortly after completing a damage survey with the help of County Mayor John Penn Ridgeway and volunteer Logan Gregory.
Damage was concentrated in Paris, including Tyson Avenue and Memorial Drive, and Puryear. In all, the storm destroyed two mobile homes, one on Conyersville Road northeast of Puryear.
Tuesday morning’s storm demolished an occupied mobile home at 716 Memorial Drive after winds blew a large tree into the home’s kitchen. The woman inside was alarmed, but luckily uninjured by the tree’s branches.
Watkins said another family’s home received major roof damage, as well as subsequent water damage from the storm.
Paris police officers and firefighters were able to cut through the fallen trees and gain access to the homes.
Several businesses in the Tyson Avenue area were damaged, including Sonic Drive-In, Cash Express, Victory Lane Oil Change, Servall Pest Control and Knights Inn. Damage included windows being blown out, light poles knocked over by winds and moderate structural or roofing damage. Business signs were also damaged or destroyed.
Buildings on Memorial Drive, McFadden Street and North Market Street were damaged.
The Puryear area was hit particularly hard, including the Conyersville Road area, which saw three barns destroyed and a tractor-trailer turned on its side by the winds.
Nearby Conyersville Methodist Church at 2150 Conyersville Road received roof damage from a fallen tree. Other areas with damage in Henry County include Anderson Drive, India Road, Henderson Drive, Highway 641 north, Highway 140 east of Puryear, Mount Sinai Road, Walters Drive and Wilson Road.
‘IT SOUNDED LIKE A FREIGHT TRAIN’
So far, there’s no sign of rotation on the National Weather Service’s weather data, and no tornado warning was issued. But when he experienced the storm at his own home, Watkins himself thought the storm was a tornado.
“I heard the wind coming and it popped the house so bad, I took shelter in the basement,” Watkins said. “It sounded like a freight train, and I thought it was a tornado, that’s how hard it hit.”
Kristi Lacy of 1019 India Road also thought the storm sounded like a tornado before a tree smashed into her home.
“It was about 4:15 a.m. when I started hearing the winds and I thought this had to be a tornado,” she said Tuesday afternoon. “Tony (Wade) had just woken up and I had walked over to the other room when the tree fell on the house. It was unlike anything I’d ever heard, I could only describe the winds like a washing machine swirling. I’m scared to go in because I can’t tell if it’s going to fall through any more.”
Betty Bailey of 1304 Grove St. said the winds felt like they were moving at 60 mph outside her house.
“I looked outside my front yard and the wind looked white, whipping tree limbs around and I thought it was going to take my roof clean off,” she said. “I have the tree in my front yard and a big pecan tree in the back — I prayed and prayed for God to just lay those trees down nice and easy. I went out when the wind stopped, both trees were laid down right where I wanted them to. People keep saying I’m blessed, but that’s what happens when you pray.”
Watkins said emergency responders have had their hands full the past week.
“Obviously, it’s very taxing on the responders to have to handle two moderate storms back to back like they have,” he said. “If you brag on one, you have to brag on them all, because they’ve worked equally as hard.”
They included the Henry County Sheriff’s Department, Henry County Highway Department, Paris-Henry County Rescue Squad and the Paris Utility Authority, among others.
The PUA started at 4 a.m. with 7,000 customers without power. As of 2 p.m., they’d cut that number to about 1,500. “That’s tremendous on their part,” Watkins said.
The storm also caused morning cases at Henry County General Sessions Court to be reset.
General Sessions Judge Vicki Snyder said it was the responsibility of the defendant who may have missed their date to contact their attorney or the General Sessions Court Clerk’s Office at 642-0461 to determine their next court date.
The exception is for Tuesday’s court, and sessions for the remainder of the week were expected to proceed normally.
As of Tuesday afternoon, the county was under the threat of more severe weather, with high winds, heavy rains and hail expected.
A possible tornado could not be ruled out, Watkins said.
“We’re still under the gun,” he said.
EDITOR’S NOTE: P-I reporter Justin Hodges contributed to this story.