'Absolutely terrifying' - Johns Island residents move forward after devastating tornado

VIDEO: Couple awakened by tornado find kitchen missing
Tree wrapped around a tree on Johns Island. (Source: WCSC viewer)
Tree wrapped around a tree on Johns Island. (Source: WCSC viewer)
Aerial picture showing tornado damage on Johns Island. (Source Charleston County Government)
Aerial picture showing tornado damage on Johns Island. (Source Charleston County Government)
Picture of a chair stuck on the side of a home. (Picture by Meriah Oxford)
Picture of a chair stuck on the side of a home. (Picture by Meriah Oxford)
John Bercik (Source: WCSC)
John Bercik (Source: WCSC)

CHARLESTON COUNTY, SC (WCSC/AP) - Residents on Johns Island are moving forward after a devastating tornado ripped through the area early Friday morning damaging several homes.

Officials with the St. Johns Fire Department say ten homes on Sonny Boy Lane suffered heavy damage with pictures and video showing demolished homes with roofs torn off, as well as trees on the road and downed power lines.

NOAA also reported between 70 and 80 homes suffered minor damage from the EF-2 tornado which the National Weather Service said had 130 mph winds.

Emergency officials say four families, a total of 12 people, are being helped by the Red Cross.

John Bercik who lives on Sonny Boy Lane said the tornado had completely destroyed his kitchen as he and his wife sought shelter.

"When the [tornado] started roaring, it was absolutely terrifying," Bercik said.

Emergency crews including area fire departments and the Red Cross responded to the scene with first responders encountering heavy debris in the area of River and Brownswood roads.

Meriah Oxford saw some of the damage first hand as she and her neighbors looked for missing belongings that the tornado had scattered, finding among other things, a chair stuck into the side of a home's wall.

"Going through the area reminded me of Hugo and I said,'Wow, how did anybody make it through?' But you know God is good," Charleston County Council Member Anna Johnson said.

The South Carolina Department of Transportation is helping the City of Charleston, St. Johns, James Island and St. Andrews Fire departments and Charleston County Volunteer Rescue Squad clear roads.

A representative for St. Johns Fire said the following roads are closed:

  • Old Pond Road
  • Sonny Boy Lane
  • Fickling Hill Road

At 9:10 p.m. on Friday, the Charleston County Sheriff's Office reported that River Road, which had been closed, was now open and will remain so until 7 a.m. Saturday.  The sheriff's office is asking motorists to use caution in the area.

Power outages in the area have been reported with Berkeley Electric Cooperative reporting around 1,000 customers in the area are affected. Earlier, the power outages affected about 4,200 members.

BEC officials say 160 workers are on the job to restore electricity.

The American Red Cross has set up a reception center at the St. Johns Fire District Headquarters, 1148 Main Rd, to help those affected by the tornado. Anyone needing assistance is asked to call 843-764-2323. A news release says the center will be open until 4 p.m.

The tornado was first confirmed by the National Weather Service around 12:40 a.m. on Friday on Johns Island near River Road.

'Absolutely Terrifying' 

John Bercik was asleep at his home on Sonny Boy Lane where he's lived for 16 years when he was awoken by his wife's phone.

"We heard a couple of alerts on the phone and it started raining really hard," Bercik said. "Then all of a sudden it started to roar like a train...it was absolutely terrifying."

At that point, Bercik said he and his wife headed towards the bathroom which was situated at the middle of the home, but on their way, they found the kitchen was gone.

"It was completely down, there was no roof," Bercik said."There was no roof and it was pouring down rain."

Bercik and his wife then returned to the bedroom and hunkered down in the closet for a couple of minutes until the tornado had passed.

"And then when we came out, it was just unbelievable," Bercik said.

Fortunately, Bercik, his wife and their two dogs who were in the house escaped unharmed even though the house suffered considerable damage.

"I went into the kitchen with an umbrella and found the cell phone underneath a bunch of rubble where we knew the purse was and we did 911 right away which was probably five minutes after the event," Bercik said. "The response was phenomenal."

Bercik said he's going "moment by moment" and staying positive.

He says it was very fortunate for he, his family and neighbors to have survived.

"It's a religious experience no question, definitely is something you can't comprehend easily," Bercik said as he held back tears."All I can do is focus on what's next and how do we do it."

Cleanup 

Berkeley Electric Co-op says more than 40 power poles were broken and there are miles of damaged power lines.

St. John's fire district battalion Chief James Ghi said there are many trees that have to be removed from the area and it will take some time to do it.

Emergency officials say DOT crews are removing trees in an effort to clear the roads where the twister hit. Authorities say they hope to restore most of the electricity Friday night and the rest on Saturday.

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