Adair County escaped the worst of deadly storms that ripped through the area Friday evening but one storm cell dumped large hail that damaged homes and vehicles and caused Wal-Mart to temporarily close.
The cell that passed through Columbia around 5 p.m. Friday was part of a storm system that killed people in five states. As of Monday, 21 people were confirmed dead in Kentucky and other victims were found in Indiana, Ohio, Alabama and Georgia. Deaths in Kentucky were confirmed in Morgan, Kenton, Laurel, Menifee, Lawrence and Johnson counties.
In Adair County, the storm cell causing the most damage moved from the west and crossed the county following the Louie B. Nunn Parkway. Homes in its path suffered serious damage, with windows broken and siding ripped into shreds. Homes just off the parkway on Highways 55 and 704 south of Columbia in the Creekbend and Peachtree Lane areas were among the damaged, as well as homes on Bliss, Jones Chapel and Weed Keltner roads in the county.
People in the path of the storm said hail looked like it was shooting horizontally into buildings. As the storm passed, roads and yards were covered in white, windows were gone and siding was shredded.
A call was made to dispatch that the Columbia Wal-Mart “was hit” but the damage was caused by high winds and large hail.
The hail broke out the store’s 94 skylights, dumping rain and hail into the aisles and onto the merchandise.
“It was just jam packed full of people,” said April Shepperd, who was shopping in the store when the storm hit.
Store employees brought pillows to customers to help provide protection should a tornado rip through the building, Shepperd said.
“You could hear it hitting the building,” she said. “You weren’t sure if it was a tornado or if it was hail.”
Shepperd said they could hear things “creak and break.”
“It was coming through the skylights. Merchandise was flying off the shelves,” she said. “I don’t think there was a skylight intact. It was kind of crazy.”
The store was closed overnight but repairs were completed quickly and the store reopened Saturday morning.
ASSESSING THE DAMAGE
Greg Thomas, emergency management director, was out shortly after the storm passed to assess damage.
Thomas said there were no reports of injuries and people were able to stay in their homes once window areas were covered and temporary measures were completed.
“We actually got off lucky,” Thomas said. Other areas were hit much harder, with the national spotlight focused on West Liberty in eastern Kentucky and Henryville, Ind. Both towns were demolished by tornadoes.
Thomas did not yet have an estimate of damage Tuesday, saying that people are still getting estimates and working with their insurance carriers.
PREPARING FOR THE WORST
While Adair County was spared from the worst–losing lives–efforts to prepare for the worst were successful.
Weather reports for at least two days warned that the storm system could potentially be deadly over central Kentucky Friday.
Schools dismissed at 12:30 p.m., giving students plenty of time to get home before the storm front moved into the area.
A tornado warning was issued around 4:45 p.m. and the county’s one-call warning system called telephones to give residents a warning.
When the warning was extended until 5:30 p.m., a second call was made.
In addition, churches and public buildings were opened for anyone who did not have a safe place to stay.
“They were calling and volunteering,” Thomas said. “It was amazing the number of facilities, churches, the Masonic Lodge, the municipal building.”
The courthouse annex is always open during dangerous storms and a group of people gathered there for safety as well.
A HELPING HAND
While the community was spared from the devastation other communities have experienced, Adair Countians still look out for their neighbors across the way, whether it be several counties over or across the state border.
Several efforts are already underway to assist victims and to help with the recovery. (See related article.)
By Sharon Burton and Allison Hollon