Residents cope with losses

SUMTER — The tornado warning had just flashed on Anne Avin’s TV Sunday morning when she heard a “really loud” noise and felt her mobile home begin to shake.

She instantly knew what was happening.

“I grabbed (my 9-year-old grandson) and hit the floor and put blankets and pillows on top of us,” Avin, 49, recalled as she ate a chicken dinner with her family Monday at a Red Cross service center.

Avin gathered with other storm victims at the Red Cross center, set up for the day at Enon Missionary Baptist Church on Pinewood Road south of Sumter.

The tornado knocked her single-wide mobile home on Significant Drive off its block foundation and tore off part of its roof. Avin said she felt fortunate to escape unharmed with her grandson.

The tornado, which reached speeds of up to 140 mph, cut a deadly, 14-mile path across Sumter County that was 300 yards wide, local and state authorities said Monday. It killed one person, injured three others and damaged an estimated 70 homes and several businesses primarily in four areas of the county, authorities said. Two weaker tornadoes were reported in Lee and Orangeburg counties.

Gov. Mark Sanford on Monday afternoon toured a rural community on U.S. 76 between Sumter and Mayesville, where Janie Gregg, 53, was killed when a tornado tore through her mobile home.

Her companion, Earl Moses, remained in critical condition Monday afternoon in a Charlotte hospital, officials said.“There are a lot of families whose lives have been turned upside down,” Sanford said during a news conference near a yellow brick home that had its windows blown out and the roof damaged.

But Ron Osborne, director of the state Emergency Management Division, said during the news conference that he didn’t think the affected areas would be eligible for Federal Emergency Management Agency assistance because the damage probably wasn’t severe enough under federal guidelines.

Osborne said a state team of 11 workers was working with county officials to assess the damage. He said it probably would be several days before a damage estimate would be available.

“You’re not seeing a horrific swath 60 miles wide, but you’re seeing horrific damage in this specific area,” Sanford noted.Sanford spoke with volunteers, neighbors and relatives of those who were injured.

“So it picked the whole house up?” Sanford said to Craig Hall, whose father, Robert Hall, was seriously injured when he was thrown — with his double-wide mobile home — more than 50 feet away. The tornado also overturned the elder Hall’s Matco Tools truck.

Craig Hall said his father, who is in his mid-50s, was watching TV when he heard the tornado coming and jumped in the bathtub. He said his father suffered broken ribs and couldn’t move after being thrown, but next-door neighbor Phil Lackey quickly got rescue workers to pull him out of the rubble.

“He’s still living,” the younger Hall said. “That’s the main thing.”

Although the twister destroyed or severely damaged some homes in the neighborhood, it left others virtually unscathed.

Besides the U.S. 76 stretch east of Sumter and the Pinewood area, the tornado hit a residential section in the Cherryvale area near Shaw Air Force Base, west of Sumter, and an industrial park off U.S. 15, said Robbie Baker, Sumter County’s emergency management director. Two,possibly three businesses in the industrial park reported damage to their roofs or other structures, he said.

The twister apparently skipped over the city of Sumter.

“We’re just fortunate it didn’t touch down in a heavily populated area,” Baker said.The twister hit Sumter County at 8:37 a.m. Sunday, said Kim Campbell, chief meteorologist at the National Weather Service’s Columbia office.

Another tornado with speeds between 86 and 110 mph hit about four miles west of Lynchburg in Lee County at 9:05 a.m., while a third twister, with speeds between 65 and 85 mph, touched down at 9:35 a.m. about three miles northeast of Rowesville in Orangeburg County, Campbell said.

Fewerthan 1,000 customers remained without power Monday afternoon, down from more than 30,000 outages across the eastern half of South Carolina during the height of the storm.

At least eight other counties reported damage from winds and heavy rains, said Joe Farmer, spokesman for the state’s Emergency Management Division.

Anne Avin and her husband, Steve Avin, who wasn’t home when Sunday’s twister hit, said they were thankful their church, Lakewood Baptist Church of Sumter, helped them move quickly to another home provided by their landlord.But their 9-year-old grandson, Allen Duggin, still was a little sad Monday.

“My basketball is gone,” he said.

Staff writer Ben Werner contributed. Reach Brundrett at (803) 771-8484.