Tornado Hits Near
BY SUSAN T. HERRING, Editor, The Guardian-Journal
unpredictable winter weather in North Louisiana can sometimes be warm enough
for air conditioning or cold enough for an ice storm. The evening of Wednesday,
January 12, 2005 in
Claiborne Parish was no different. The temperature reached into the mid 70s. A
cold front expected to come through the area later that night was expected to
bring strong thunderstorms. It did_and
With no warning,
more than thirty families were in the path of a tornado estimated to be
traveling 55-60 miles per hour. It formed just below the home of Matt Simmons
on Harris Road around 10:45 PM and
shortly after 11:00 PM, it hit the unoccupied home of Clifton Hamilton's
son near the intersection of Forest Grove Road and La. 2.
January 13, two representatives from the National Weather Service were in
Claiborne Parish to assess the damage. Meteorologists Mark Frazier, Warning
Coordinator, and Bill Adams, Senior Forecaster, concluded that the tornado
began as an F1 on Harris Road, but was rated an F2 (113-157 mph) by the time it
reached Powell Road. The tornado traveled 15 miles in a straight path across
Airport Loop and Bream Island to Forest Grove, ranging in width from 50 to 250
yards at the widest point.
No damage was
assessed between Forest Grove and the Arkansas line, but the twister continued
its destruction along a 24-mile path between Junction City and a rural area 8
miles south of El Dorado, killing two elderly persons and injuring several
others. At this point, the NWS said the tornado had reached an intensity of
F3...158 to 206 miles per hour.
Claiborne Parish said this was the worst they had ever seen. Chuck Talley, with
the Claiborne Parish Sheriff's Office, said he hadn't seen anything like this
in nearly 30 years. Dennis Butcher, Director for the Office of Emergency
Preparedness, said, "We were damn lucky."
Butcher said at
approximately 10:55 when the National Weather Service called to inform the
Sheriff's Office they had positive rotation and echo hooks, indicating a
tornado 4-5 miles southwest of Homer. Within 3-5 minutes, the Sheriff's Office
was receiving calls, reporting damage in Claiborne Parish.
It all began
about 10:45 PM Wednesday night when Matt Simmons was setting his alarm clock.
He had just left his parents' home next door, Gordon and Cee
Simmons. The lights blinked three times, then he heard
the noise getting louder and louder. He could hear
things hitting the house. He was running to the livingroom
to get his new German Shepherd puppy when it hit. The
force rolled his trailer forward over his truck, throwing him approximately
40-50 feet from his trailer. He managed to get up and walk about ten yards,
then crawled the next sixty yards to the fence between his and his parents'
napping in his recliner when Cee woke him up to tell
him the storm was getting worse. She had looked out the back door and had seen
the wind blowing hard. Within minutes, it hit. Gordon felt the house rise up.
Then, seconds later, it was over. Cee went to the
front door to find the columns on the porch gone. She screamed. Gordon came out and walked to
the end of the porch. It was then he heard his son Matt calling, "Daddy,
help me. I'm hurt."
They managed to
get Matt to the house and call 911 for an ambulance. Matt was having trouble
breathing and could not stand up. They realized he needed medical attention
fast. Over the scanner, Gordon heard the ambulance having trouble getting to
them because of the trees on Harris Road. He drove down and tried to move some
from this end, driving back to check on Matt. The ambulance finally made it
around on Ford Road. Matt was taken to Homer Memorial Hospital where they
discovered he had a cracked pelvic bone. He was out of ICU and in a private
room by Monday. Even though he was up walking, he still could not move his
right leg without help. The doctors expect him to recover once everything is
"I'm still here and I am very thankful for that. All the prayers and help means a lot to me." He realizes if it weren't for God
first, the emergency personnel and staff at Homer Memorial Hospital, he might
not be here.
Ashley Stovall was on duty at Claiborne Electric. She heard a weather alert
about one minute before the tornado hit. She attempted to warn custodian
Christine Gantt by paging her, but ended up running to the other end of the
building to tell her a tornado was about to hit Homer. Christine looked up to
see the ceiling tiles lifting up, and said, "It's here." Within
seconds, it was over.
The windows in
five cars parked in the back of the Claiborne Electric building were blown out
by the force of the twister. A portion of the parking canopy was twisted,
bending the heavy 6 inch steel beams over. Joey White, spokesman for Claiborne
Electric, said the damage was limited because their building was designed to
Kim Hays was
watching the final weather report on the evening news around 10:35 PM. She was
making sure there would be no tornado watches or severe storm warnings in
Claiborne Parish before going to bed. Her husband, Kimbell,
had been in bed about an hour. Shortly after turning out the lights, it began
to rain, thunder and lightning. The electricity began to blink on and off, then
the wind picked up. She woke Kimbell, scared. By that
time the wind was roaring and the windows in the mobile home were rattling. She
picked up their 2-month-old baby, Tatum, from the bassinet. The trailer began to sway back and forth.
Kimbell threw the comforter from the bed around the three
of them and they went to the floor beside the bed, only to have the force of
the tornado lift them and the trailer, axle and all, into the air. Kim closed
her eyes and prayed. They were being sucked toward the funnel cloud. A heavy
chest of drawers hit Kimbell, breaking four ribs and
puncturing his lung, separating him from Kim and the baby. Kim felt herself and
her baby being lifted, as if some higher power picked then up and placed them
on the wet, muddy ground, where she landed on her back. She opened her eyes and
saw the corner of their mattress hovering above her. Something was holding it
up as if to shelter them from the rain and flying debris. She would later discover where she landed was
the only clear spot among the pile of rubble.
She heard Kimbell calling. Their trailer was
gone. Nothing was left but the cinder blocks, but all three had miraculously
survived. She thanked God.
Kimbell managed to get to his truck, then
used an ax to break out the window to get to his mobile phone. He called his
dad. He said, "Our house is gone. We need someone to take us to the
hospital." At first, Bubba Hays thought his son's house had burned, but
when he got to Powell Drive at the Hill Farm and saw the trees blocking the
road, he knew it was a tornado. Kim was badly bruised, scraped and her back was hurt. Tatum had a minor scrape on the back of
her head. Both were released from the hospital on Friday. Kimbell
remained in ICU until Sunday, then was released from
On the east
side of Homer at 2068 Airport Loop, Ann Freeman was in bed. Her husband, Joe, was in the living
room, sitting near the front of the house. The phone rang. Joe went to the
kitchen to answer it. It was his son-in-law Jeffery Huffstetler
calling to warn them a tornado had just passed over their house on Harris Road
and was headed in their direction. Joe called to Ann to get up. The lights went
out and Joe
went to get a lantern. Soon they could hear the wind; it sounded like a freight
train. They thought it was hailing but now think it was debris hitting the
house. About 8 minutes after getting the call from Jeffery, at 10:55 PM, the
whole front of the house blew in. Joe jumped behind the sofa table but was hit
in the hand with flying debris. Ann was on the couch and pulled a blanket over
her head. She said, "I know there is a God. He stopped the wall before it
hit me." They grabbed the car keys still sitting by the microwave and
walked over broken glass to get to the carport. The drive was blocked, so they
drove their car through the ditch to neighbor's Paul and Susie Coleman's house,
then to Homer Memorial to get checked out. Joe's hand was swollen and bruised,
but not broken.
The next day
they began to try to salvage what they could of clothes and mementoes. Joe
said, "The Lord was with us last night and He is still with us
today." On Saturday, Ann said Susie Coleman fed lunch to 86 people who
were helping clean up, including the Disaster Relief Team from Calvary Baptist.
Sandra Griggs was lying in her recliner watching television. Her husband,
Buddy, was in the kitchen packing his lunch for the next day. Her son, Corey
Marshall, was in his bedroom playing a video game. They had absolutely no
warning. She felt the pressure and hollered for Corey. He didn't hear her. It
was warm in his room so he had opened the window. All of a sudden, the screen
flew off. He got up to leave the room and the door slammed shut. He opened it
enough for his dog to run out and it slammed shut again. By the time he got the
door open, it was over. Most of the
damage to the house was to the eaves on each end. The storage building and
carport were gone. The new grill was gone but the butane bottle was still
there. Three trees had fallen, almost cutting Corey's 1995 Z-71 extended cab
truck in half, damaging Buddy's 1995 Nissan pickup, and destroying their
storage building, but no one was hurt.
street, Benny Shelton's doublewide mobile home was blown off the slab and a
tree was through Vance Robinson's home. All but about ten feet of the 85 foot
porch on the back of Dwight Mitchell's log home was torn off, flooding his
On the opposite
end of Airport Loop, Dorothy Ferguson had watched the weather before going to
bed. No bad weather predicted for Homer area, just some heavy winds. After
saying her prayers, she listened to the thunder. All of a sudden, the wind got
strong and things started to hit the house. Then she felt some cool air. The
roof lifted up pulling all the wiring out of the walls. Part of the ceiling fan
fell on her bed and the mirrored closet doors fell at the foot of her bed and
shattered. Her night stand beside her bed and a picture above her bed did not
move. Across the hall, her husband, John L. was asleep in bed. The force
knocked him to the floor before he realized what was happening. Neither was
hurt. They managed to get to the utility room which was still intact. They
found their extra pair of car keys and managed to drive their car around the
fallen trees and debris to their son Scott's house located a short distance
away. Mrs. Ferguson said there were at least 20 big tall pines and oaks down.
One huge sycamore tree, more than 100 years old with a 5 foot diameter, was
down. Every one of the trees had fallen away from the house.
They received a
lot of help the next day from friends and neighbors. The Southern Baptist
Association Disaster Team from Oak Grove also came and cut the trees. Mrs.
Ferguson said, "You don't realize who your friends are until something
like this happens." Amazingly, as a sign there was a higher power watching
over them, the Virgin Mary from the Freeman's Christmas manger scene was found
in the Ferguson's yard.
At 122 Seth
Lane off Bream Island, Carl and Virginia McLemore had been in bed about 45
minutes when a huge oak tree fell into the house damaging almost every room but
the bedroom they were in. They were unharmed. On Saturday, Carl was taken to
Homer Memorial with chest pains. They thought he was having another heart
attack. He had one two months earlier. They found it was only due to extreme
stress caused by insufficient oxygen to the heart. He was to be released
mid-week. The McLemore's pastor, Ray Anderson, said, "When we think of the
power of God's creation, it reminds us how finite we really are."
neighbors, Scott and Dot Mire, managed to crawl out of the debris of their
home. They got in their truck and turned on the lights before they realized
nothing was left except the porch and the wrought iron rockers sitting
Other homes with heavy damage or considered a total loss were
Rickey Perot on Seth Lane, W. C. Peterson at 129 Odom Lane, Milton Odom at 125
Odom Lane (both off Bream Island Road), a home at 113 Jane Drive, Kim Phung at 2093 Airport Loop, Lloyd Lyons Sr. at 4012 Harris
Road, Byron Blake on Harris Road., and the old Sid Moreland house on Hwy. 9
near Claiborne Electric.
Phung, former owner of the Chinese Kitchen next to M&M
Hardware, was making plans last year to reopen the restaurant when she was
involved in an accident on I-49 in Shreveport. She never recovered from her
injuries and is now being cared for in a nursing home.
Road Superintendent Dean Busby, the Police Jury road crew worked through the
night until about 3 PM on Thursday. They spent approximately 270-300 manhours clearing the roadways. The heaviest damage was at
the intersection of Fincher Creek and Harris Road, across Ford Road, behind
Claiborne Electric, along Powell Road, both sides of Airport Loop and Bream
Joey White said
at the height of the storm Claiborne Electric had between 1,500 and 2,000
outages. By daylight on Thursday, all but 400 had their electricity restored
and those were back on by 8 PM Friday night.
All the families
affected by the disaster expressed their appreciation for all the help they
have received. Many were thankful to be alive. Most say they plan to rebuild.
"We need to recognize that so many friends and church groups have been out
working every day since the storm and will be for weeks to come," said
Dennis Butcher. "In times like these, Claiborne Parish is a place you can
count on your friends and neighbors."
THIS HOUSE ON SETH LANE OFF BREAM ISLAND ROAD is an example of the destruction left by the F2 tornado along a 15-mile
path from Harris Road to Forest Grove on Wednesday, January 12. At least 35
homes were heavily damaged or destroyed. Thankfully no one was seriously
ONE TORNADO traveling 55-60 miles per hour destroyed homes and property along 15 miles in Claiborne Parish and 24
miles in Union County, Arkansas late Wednesday night, January 12. In Claiborne
Parish about 35 homes
were heavily damaged or destroyed and a dozen people were injured. Two were killed
and 13 injured in Union County. The tornado was rated F2 (113-157 mph) in
Claiborne Parish and F3 (158-206 mph) in Union County.
More Images of the Tornado Damage
by area photographer Rusty Gilbert
Images of the Tornado Damage
Courtesy of The Guardian-Journal
Marilyn Bush Loses Appeal
BY SUSAN T. HERRING, Editor, The Guardian-Journal
Supreme Court issued its ruling on January 4, 2005, refusing to hear the appeal
filed by attorney Eric Johnson on behalf of his client, former Haynesville Town
Clerk Marilyn Bush.
In April 2002,
Bush was convicted of felony theft and sentenced to ten years in prison.
Prosecutors say she took more than $430,000 between July 1991 and September
2000. State Legislative Auditor Dan Kyle confirmed a total theft of $432,250.
Bush denies taking that amount but admits to taking about $72,000 between March
1999 and September 2000 to support a gambling habit.
On February 19,
2004, District Judge Jenifer Clason
vacated the ten year sentence she had previously imposed on Bush and re-sentenced
her to a ten year suspended sentence and placed her on four years supervised
probation in exchange for a payment of $100,000 toward restitution. At that
time, she had served 22 months of her 10 year sentence.
Attorney Walter May argued that the defendant had waived her right to appeal
her sentence and that she had never provided documentary evidence on her assets
or income, to show whether future retirement payments might be appropriately
applied toward restitution.
May appealed the decision to the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeal.
They overturned Clason's ruling and reinstated Bush's
original 10-year prison sentence. Bush was rearrested, but remains free on her
$15,000 bond obligation.
filed a motion in District Court in hopes of keeping Bush out of prison. The
hearing is scheduled for 9:30 AM on March 8.
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE Meteorologists Mark Frazier, Warning Coordinator, (seated) and Bill
Adams, Senior Forecaster, (right) were in Claiborne Parish Thursday, January 13
to assess the path of the tornado and view the damage. Dean Busby, Police Jury
Road Superintendent, showed the road crew had found damage between Fincher
Creek Road and Forest Grove. Busby said he had not seen damage this bad since
he began working for the Police Jury in 1982. For more on this storm, go to the
National Weather Service website for the Southern Region at www.srh.weather.gov/shv/January_12_2005_PNS_Storms.htm