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National Weather Service confirms storm was tornado

By Alecia Sirk

(May 26) National Weather Service representatives from Charleston confirmed Tuesday that there was a tornado in Harrison County Sunday, but the handful of families who lost garages, roofs, cars and homes didn't need to be told what had happened.

The twister touched down at least three times in the county, hopping in a path from Sardis to Upper Lamberts Run to Furnam Road.

"It looks like it's tornado damage," said Dan Luna, a science operations officer from the Charleston Weather Service bureau. Luna said the tornado would not be considered a strong twister by the bureau's standards.

"It's not as strong to us, but it is to the homeowners," he said.

The tornado that skipped through Harrison County uprooted trees, moved roofs a mile into the woods and turned houses off their foundations. A top-level twister would have completely destroyed everything in its path, Luna said.

Two county families, one on Farnum Road and one on Upper Lamberts Run, were left homeless by the storm.

"I never seen nothing," said Eric Vernon, who was outside his Farnum Road home during the storm. Vernon was walking onto the porch of his family's home when the roof was ripped off over his head. He barely made it into the house.

"I was holding onto my uncle by the shoulders, and I threw my leg up over the doorknob," he said, describing how he held on during the winds.

The twister then ripped the roof off the Vernon home. The family said they were not sure where they were going to go. The home was deemed a total loss by fire and rescue teams, Vernon said.

"You don't appreciate your bed until you don't got one," said the blue-eyed young man, whose hands and chin were black with soot from debris he was burning.

Lyle Wilson, a weather service forecaster, said he and Luna had come out to study the pattern of the storm. The direction of uprooted trees and wind patterns gave clues to making the tornado determination.

"Straight-line winds from a storm can reach 100 mph and they seem like a tornado," he said. Straight-line winds push everything in one direction. Downed trees pointing in different directions were one clue toward making the tornado determination, Wilson said.

Wilson said there had been other unconfirmed reports of twister sightings throughout the state, but Harrison County was so far the only field site the weather service had visited following Sunday's storms.

The team was also interested in the eye witness accounts of people like James Loar. Loar, whose father's nearby mobile home was destroyed by the twister, watched from a window as the twister began to touch down outside his house.

"You could see the motion of the wind because it was saturated with debris," said Loar, whose house was hit by a flying object that collapsed one wall. Sledgehammers from his destroyed tool shed were found more than 100 yards away, and he still hasn't located the roof of his garage. His roof was also pierced by a two-by-four.

"The odd thing is, that thing hanging there on the porch," he said, gesturing toward the front of his house. "It's just one of those hanging-down things made of seashells, and it's still hanging there."

Clyde Loar's house, about 25 yards from James' home, was torn from its foundation. Two cars outside were destroyed and only a quarter of the garage was left behind by the twister.

"The force from the wind knocked my wife to the floor and she cut her head. The house was going up and down about three feet," said Ed Loar, Clyde's son, who was visiting at about 7 p.m. Sunday when the twister touched down.

In a span of about four minutes, Ed Loar crawled over to his 80-year-old father and mother and got them to the floor. The house twisted off its foundation and rammed into a hill in its backyard. Two cars were destroyed and the garage was ripped apart. Two 50-foot pines in the front yard were uprooted. Then it was over.

The insurance adjusters have visited the home and 100 members of the Sardis community and Baptist Church turned out Monday to help clean up the Loars' property.

"Hopefully, we can get them back into a new mobile home right here," Ed said. His parents have lived in the area most of their lives. "And we'll accomplish it somehow."