By Jack Gurner
OAKLAND – A line of strong thunderstorms brought damaging straight-line winds to Yalobusha County just before 5 p.m. Friday toppling tress and bringing down power lines.
The storms developed in Kansas, according to the National Weather Service, and caused heavy damage in Arkansas before moving across the Mississippi River. Sustained winds were estimated at over 60 mph with gusts to near 85.
Among the hardest hit areas was the Town of Oakland where falling trees damaged several homes, vehicles and a portion of the town’s electrical infrastructure.
As soon as the winds had subsided, emergency responders began converging on the town. Frank Hyde, acting Civil Defense Director said that he had 60 to 70 volunteers working out of a command post set up in the Oakland Fire Department.
Hyde said that initial reports of a tornado at Oakland were not true and it appeared that the damage was caused by very high, straight-line winds.
Although no injuries were reported from the storm, Mathew Camp, a Pine Valley volunteer firefighter, was hurt while cutting a tree limb off a power line during the clean-up operation in Oakland Saturday night, according to Hyde.
Sheriff’s Deputies, some armed with a personal chain saws, worked in the pouring rain to remove trees from roads. “We had trees down all over the county,” Hyde said.
“We’re lucky no one was hurt in the campsites and parks,” said Hyde of the heavy damage in some of those areas.
Meanwhile in Water Valley, the storm rolled in a little after 5 p.m. Rotation could be seen in the clouds over town from the Hwy. 7 bypass. High wind and heavy rain rocked vehicles violently and limited visibility to a few feet slowing traffic to a crawl.
Police ordered the emergency sirens to be activated when debris began flying through the air around 5:30 p.m. The northern half of Yalobusha County was under a tornado, flash flood, and severe thunderstorm warning at the time.
Power went out at 5:35 as the high winds blew down trees around the city. The Electric Department crew was on the streets as soon as the worst of the storm passed. Workers restored power to the hospital area in about 30 to 45 minutes, according to Electric Department Manager Joe Newman.
They then began to systematically restore downed lines in other areas of the city. Trees were reported to have damaged power lines on Stephens Street, on Lafayette at Central, out Highway 315, on Daniels Drive, and on Community Park Drive where a small red pick-up truck was barely visible among the limbs of a fallen tree.
Police blocked Central Street as the Electric Department worked on downed lines and the Street Department removed the tree that had fallen on the northeast corner of Lafayette and Central.
Power was restored to most of the city at 7:29 p.m. The Electric Department crew worked until 2:30 a.m. Saturday. The crews were back at work Saturday morning and worked until 3 p.m.
Power was restored to all of Water Valley and the only remaining customers without electricity had damage to private property.
Street Department workers were out until around 9 p.m. Friday when it became to dark to work safely. They were back at work Saturday clearing debris from the street and removing tree limbs, according to Department Supervisor Mike Scroggins.
Saturday morning in Oakland, residents surveyed the damage and continued the clean-up from the night before.
Carolyn Russell stood outside her home on Hickory Street where a tree had fallen and damaged the roof. “After 55 years, this is the first time I have seen wind this high,” she said.
Closer to the center of town, concrete blocks from the old McCachren store were scattered around where the front wall fell during the high wind. Tree limbs and broken utility poles littered the sides of the roads.
A customer service representative for Entergy cruised the streets making note of electrical system damage. She said that the company had crews working in the nearby towns of Pope, Courtland, and Grenada along with those in the Oakland area.
By the end of the day Monday all of Entergy’s Yalobusha County customers had been restored, according to company spokesperson Mara Hartmann.
The same was true for the Tennessee Valley Electric Power Association, said TVEPA Manager of Communications Marlin Williams. Williams told the Herald that an estimated 2,438 customers reported power outages after the storm.
By mid-afternoon Monday, all of their customers had their power restored unless they sustained damage to their home and needed a private electrician to make repairs, Williams said. “We have had a full staff from Friday at 4 p.m. until Monday answering calls.”