Update: Tree-snapping storm wallops old Columbia neighborhoods

jholleman@thestate.comJuly 17, 2013 

— Powerful winds associated with a thunderstorm met the old trees of Columbia’s Shandon and Heathwood neighborhoods Wednesday, and the winds won.

Huge limbs snapped and entire trees toppled, their root balls pulled out of the ground. Almost every block from Five Points to Rosewood Drive was littered with tree trunks or large limbs.

Columbia officials answered about 80 calls, had to rescue four people trapped in houses, one of whom was hurt and treated on the scene, according to Brick Lewis, spokesman for the Columbia Fire Department.

While the Shandon/Heathwood area appeared to have the most extensive damage, trees also were reported down in Aiken, Kershaw, Lexington and Orangeburg counties, according to the National Weather Service.

The weather service reported no radar indications of tornado formation during the storm, and the damage was caused by straight line winds. A gust of 56 mph was measured at Columbia Metropolitan Airport in Lexington County.

About three hours after the storm rolled through, more than 2,500 homes in Richland County and more than 1,000 in Lexington County still were without power, according to SCE&G. Some of those homes also had big holes in their roofs.

“It’s raining in my living room,” said Elaine Baskin, outside her home on Waccamaw Avenue in Columbia. “There are about three trees on my house.”

Upon closer inspection it looked like three big sections from one large tree, which split about 20 feet up. Despite the damage, Baskin was more worried about her cats, which she hadn’t seen since the storm hit.

She and neighbor Julie Yazel already had contacted their insurance companies. “I was calling while the tree was falling,” said Baskin, who had downloaded her insurance company app and had used it to send damage photos. “How cool! I knew there was a reason to have a cell phone.”

Yazel was returning home on Edisto Avenue just after the storm. She turned onto her street and thought “Oh, no!” A large limb had snapped off a tree in her backyard. “My husband says there’s a piece about 6 feet long sticking through the attic,” she said.

Boyd Blanchard and Thomas Kibler watched a tree (which had a rotted root system) in front of their Blossom Street house fall onto their cars.

“I was thinking ‘God this is bad. There’s going to be a lot of stuff down.’ And then it went woosh,” Kibler said. Blanchard’s Jeep avoided much damage. Kibler’s Tahoe was so engulfed by the tree canopy it was hard to determine the damage.

A big oak shattered at a rotten spot about 20 feet up and smashed into the law office at 2512 Devine St. A big limb just missed the front of Hand Middle School.

Neighbors walked the streets, checking out the damage. Most wondered if the heavy rain in recent weeks had made the trees more susceptible to failure. The rain probably weighed down some rotted limbs, and saturated soil would make it easier for wind-blown trees to pull up their own root balls. But few of the toppled trees that fell along the edges of streets seemed to have healthy root balls.

One exception was at the corner of Heyward and Woodrow, where a powerful gust pushed a large tree over so hard it snapped large, healthy roots. The trunk fell across the fence around the house once used as a temporary governor’s mansion during Gov. Jim Hodges’ term. “If the governor still lived here, it would be cleaned up like that,” said homeowner Mark Schimmoeller with a snap of his fingers.

The storm also caused flash flooding, as 1.5 inches of rain fell in 45 minutes at the University of South Carolina. But the flood waters went away quickly. It’ll take days to clear all the fallen trees and large limbs from houses and yards.

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