5 dead after EF-3 tornado passes through Hampton County, S.C.

Storm damage in Nixville, S.C.
Storm damage in Nixville, S.C.(WTOC)
Updated: Apr. 13, 2020 at 5:03 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

HAMPTON COUNTY, S.C. (WTOC) - Five people are dead after an EF-3 tornado swept through parts of Hampton County, S.C. in the early-morning hours on Monday, the Hampton County Emergency Management Agency confirmed.

An EF-3 tornado is classified as a strong tornado with winds between 136 to 165 miles per hour.

The Hampton County Coroner released three of the victims names Monday night. They have been identified as 56-year-old Donna Breland, Jim Breland, and 26-year-old Kayla Breland.

Two victims were identified on Tuesday as Alberto Hernandez and Rene Rodriquez.

Hampton County EMA told the National Weather Service that 12 people were injured. Director Susanne Peeples says after thorough searches of hard-hit spots, there’s no one missing.

“It, it’s devastation," Peebles said. "There’s trees and they’re mangled, and there’s homes that the roofs are gone off of. One mobile home is sitting flat on the ground. Houses totally destroyed. It’s nothing I’ve ever seen, I’ve never seen anything like this.”

Hampton County government posted on its Facebook page that there is still heavy damage throughout the county.

This morning the emergency management director here in Hampton County estimated the damage spans 15 to 20 square miles.

From Nixville to just outside of Estill off Highway 321, the path and scope of the damage became more apparent as the sun came up. For much of the morning, roads were still being cleared so first responders could check on those affected by the storm.

Sprayfield Road, just south of Estill, most, if not all the homes had damage. We spoke to a husband and wife who rode out the storm, and described what those terrifying minutes were like.

“Like a train, like a freight train. And once it get close to you, the pressure, you can’t hear nothing because the pressure and the sound of a freight train was inside the truck with us. And debris was flying and hitting the truck and everything," said Bobby and Sharon Russell, Sprayfield Rd. residents, Hampton County.

They added while it only lasted about three minutes, it felt like a lifetime. The Russell’s lost their home in the storm, but say they’re just thankful they’re still here, and that the home can be rebuilt.

WTOC Meteorologist Cutter Martin went to Nixville, S.C. You can view his Facebook Live below:

Significant damage through central Hampton County after an early morning tornado - I’m in Nixville, SC.

Posted by WTOC Cutter Martin on Monday, April 13, 2020

Hampton County residents spent the day clearing a path for neighbors to get to their homes after the tornado wreaked havoc on the area between Yemassee and Varnville. They say they have never experienced so much detestation.

Longtime residents saw their homes destroyed in a matter of seconds. Many spent the day picking through the pieces for remnants of their most valuable possessions.

For one family on Thorn Circle, their three-acre lot held three generations. The family lived in a house, a trailer, and a camper.

“It hit, lasted about 45 seconds, and I come outside and try to get to my daughter’s house where my grandkids are," Charles Ogden said. "And I couldn’t get there. I couldn’t figure out where I was at. Trees were down, windy, raining, took me about a half an hour to go 50 feet. And I got there and found they were OK and got them settled down and went out and started assessing damage and that’s when I found the camper destroyed.”

They said the most shocking aspect was how quickly it all happened.

“Every tree in the yard," Misti Ogden said. "Just broke and sheds fell over and everything. Just within a matter of seconds.”

“It was about 6:30 this morning. Wind came through from behind my house. And it literally tore up everything," said Arthur Youmans.

At first glance Lenot Road looks like a dead end. But the more serious and real situation, a massive tree, knocked over by Monday morning’s tornado, was blocking the two lane road. The land the tree stood over was destroyed.

“We still numb. We aren’t over the shock of it yet.”

Arthur Youmans’ family didn’t waste a single moment cleaning up the debris and clearing the road for their neighbors. The group of them working with Jasper and Hampton County law-enforcement to clean the road up so emergency management could get to their neighbors who had even more extensive damage.

The damage to their land included downed power lines, blocked roads, and structural damage. They say they just have to work through it.

“I don’t see, it’s going to take weeks to clean up. I’ll probably do it myself.”

And Arthur isn’t the only one in the family that takes care of business. His 10-year-old granddaughter had been trapped between her bed and a tree. She says her father saved her life.

“So I was sleeping last night and the tornado came. And all I heard was a crack and then the house shook really badly. And then the tree fell," said Charity Woods.

To 10-year-old Charity Woods, most of Monday morning’s storm is a blur, but her father will never forget it.

“She was literally laying right there. I mean, I had to pull, she had this much room and I had to pull her out," Charity’s dad said.

Charity was sleeping in her family’s home when a tree crashed through the ceiling - pinning her to the bed.

“And then my dad ran in there, he fell, and he grabbed me out from underneath the tree and the roof of my house," she said.

“Her bedroom is right here. Right through there. I don’t understand how she got, how we got out of there," Charity’s dad said.

She says she was scared and disorientated.

“It felt like the jungle," she said. “There was a lot, there was like a tree in the room – through my room. And the leaves made it feel like I was crawling on the sand.”

Her parents jumped into action.

“I was so scared. I thought I was going to lose them," she said.

“A little bit of room I had to pull her out from underneath. Scratched her legs up. I had to pull her out and find my way. I didn’t even know where the hell I was I just know we needed to get out of there," Charity’s dad said.

For Charity, it made her father a hero.

“My dad is the greatest dad ever.”

And her father added he wasn’t worried about the damage to the house. He says they can always replace buildings in materials, they can’t replace each other.

While there’s definitely a lot of people who lost everything, they say they were just happy to be alive.

One man we spoke to was out surveying the damage, not only along his road Turner Expressway, but also to his home.

The man says he heard the storm approaching, his roof cracked and a pecan tree came crashing into his home.

He says if he’d been a few feet over in his living room, he wouldn’t have made it out alive.

“I’m a blessed man, I know the Lord spared me. I believe that. I do. But I’m a fella that believes in Jesus. When I think about all my neighbors and how tough a time they’ve had, I mean they’ve had it pretty rough. Some of them lost their lives, their children, grandchildren up there," said Floyd Turner.

Turner was talking about just down the road from his house, where a family of three died this morning.

The Prince Family says this tornado has caused thousands of dollars in damage to their home and their vehicles but they also say, they feel lucky to be alive.

“When it got really close, I felt it through the house. The house started shaking. It’s a scary experience to be through something like that,” said Leroy Prince.

Leroy Prince is one of many whose homes and more were damaged or lost early this morning.

"There's trailers upside down, trailers pulled behind, trucks up in trees."

“Going around, riding around looking at the damage here, I just wanted to go in tears looking at everybody’s homes that they’ve lost,” said Susan Prince.

Prince says a tree limb landed on the side of his home and his car.

At the end of the day, Prince and his family says they got lucky because things could've been a lot worse.

“If it weren’t for him, waking us up like he did, I probably wouldn’t be alive right now," said Susan.

If you’re looking for a way to help out the people impact by these storms, Hampton County is accepting food donations for the community of Nixville and first responders.

You can drop that off at the Hampton County Recreation Department. It’s on Pine Street in Varnville.

Stay with WTOC as we continue to update this story.

Copyright 2020 WTOC. All rights reserved.