South Carolina continued to clean up Tuesday from the state’s deadliest tornado outbreak in 36 years.
Nine people were killed as a series of twisters moved from one end of the state to the other Monday morning. Meteorologists have counted at least nine tornadoes and said more are likely to be added as they carefully trace damage paths that in some cases spread across several counties.
Monday was the deadliest day for tornadoes in South Carolina since a March 1984 outbreak brought 12 twisters to the northern part of the state, killing 15 people.
The nine deaths Monday happened from one corner of the state to another.
Security guard Jack Harvill, 77, died when the building he was in outside a plant in Seneca collapsed in the tornado. Only about five people were at the plant. Typically, 200 would be working the night shift, but the coronavirus shut the plant down, Oconee County Coroner Karl Addis said.
Jim Breland, 59, his wife Donna, 56, and their daughter Kayla Breland, 26, died when their house near Estill was destroyed. Alberto Hernandez, 41, and Rene Rodriguez, 25, lived nearby and were roommates and co-workers at a nearby turf company. They were killed when their home was demolished, the Hampton County Coroner’s Office said.
Ethel Griffin, 46, died when a tree fell on her in a bedroom in her Colleton County home, the coroner’s office said. Griffin’s 1-year-old grandchild was with her and it took 20 minutes for firefighters to untangle the child from the tree limbs and parts of the home’s ceiling, authorities said.
Doris Chavis, 68, and her husband, Gerald, 63, died when their home in Neeses was lifted and tossed onto a nearby highway, Orangeburg County Coroner Samuetta Marshall said.
Monday’s three strongest tornadoes reported so far were rated at EF-3 on a scale of zero to five. Those storms have estimated winds from 140 mph to 165 mph (225 kph to 265 kph).
One went through Barnwell, Orangeburg and Calhoun counties for 32 miles (51 kilometers), killing the couple in Neeses. A second went 17 miles (27 kilometers) through Oconee and Pickens counties, killing the security guard in Seneca. The third is still being studied, but was in Barnwell and Aiken counties.
The National Weather Service in Charleston is analyzing the storm that killed six people in Hampton and Colleton counties and caused major damage over 80 miles (129 kilometers) from Estill to Moncks Coroner. They are trying to determine if it was one more more tornadoes and how strong the twisters were.
Also on Monday, three tornadoes were reported in Georgetown County. One was reported on Edisto Island. Two tornadoes were in Pickens County. They were all weaker storms.
The Appalachian Mountains on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other typically shield South Carolina from the strong tornadoes that can rake the Deep South.
Outbreaks like Monday with long-track, violent tornadoes typically happen less than once a decade, meteorologists said.
Tornado outbreaks from hurricanes are more typical and for many, that’s where their minds went when they saw the destruction Monday.
Hampton County Sheriff T.C. Smalls said the trees and power lines down everywhere reminded him of Hurricane Matthew in 2016 for his county some 50 miles (80 kilometers) from Hilton Head Island.
Further inland, Orangeburg County Sheriff Leroy Ravenell looked at the damage and thought about Hurricane Hugo’s march from Charleston through the heart of the state in 1989.
Gov. Henry McMaster toured the damaged areas from the air Monday. He has dealt with hurricanes brushing the state each year since taking office in 2017, but these tornadoes were much more violent.
“I’ve never seen this kind of devastation heavy from one spot,” the governor said.
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