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Spring storm slams county

By Jeff Phillips jphillips@civitasmedia.com

April 28, 2014

A late afternoon spring storm created havoc for parts of Harlan County on Monday, injuring at least three people, leaving widespread damage, power outages and lots of cleanup work for residents, city, county and state crews.


The city of Evarts appeared to be the hardest hit area with at least three people injured when the roof was ripped off the Dairy Hut restaurant. The roof was hurled across the highway and into the Marathon convenience store and on top of a car occupied by a woman and a child. Also, a woman inside the Marathon received injuries from debris.


The National Weather Service was still compiling information Monday evening, but a spokesman said based on data and radar tracking the storm indicated straight line winds.


Meteorologist John Pelton said a line of storms moved east northeast after forming near the Jellico, Tenn., and Williamsburg area. He said the storm tracked across Whitley and Bell County before entering Harlan County and hitting the Evarts area around 3:20 p.m.


“Everything we have is indicative of straight lines winds,” he said. “The storm continued east and moved across Black Mountain with wind gusts of 70 miles per hour about 4 p.m.


The storm warning was issued at 3:02 p.m. when local emergency officials activated the Code Red Alert system.


Substantial structural damage was reported to those two businesses, along with the Cloverfork Pawn Shop, homes and garages. Many outside items such as carports, pools and trampolines were no match for the high winds which also ripped shingles from roofs and tumbled limbs and entire trees onto homes and cars.


Witnesses in the Evarts area said the injured were being treated at Harlan ARH Hospital a short time after the storm, while emergency crews, homeowners, store owners and others hurried to salvage items and secure them before additional predicted weather arrived.


Bogie Burkhart, owner of the pawn shop, said he was inside the store when he heard something that sounded like “a jet engine speeding up” sweep through the street by his business. A few seconds later brick and other debris lined the street.


“It was a sight. If someone had been walking down the street they would have been killed.


“The wind came straight down the one way,” he said. “It was at least 60 to 70 miles per hour.”


The store is located at the corner of KY 38 and KY 215.


Kevin Dixon was sitting in his vehicle at the Marathon awaiting the return of his mother, Alma Dixon, from inside the business when the storm hit. He saw the debris fly across KY 38 and crash into the building and a parked vehicle.


“Stuff was still blowing when I rushed in to check on my mother,” he said. “I knew it was time for her to come out. When I rushed in they were screaming to get the baby out of the car.” He managed to rescue the baby from underneath the debris by bringing it out the back window and then the woman in the car was able to crawl out.


The baby’s name was not known. The woman was identified as Karen Brock. Dixon said the baby had cuts and scraps but the woman seemed to be mostly shaken.


A woman identified as Vickie Farley was injured inside the store when debris crashed in and overturned a lottery machine.


Elijah Hendricks who lives nearby said he was sitting and looking out the front door when the wind began to blow. “I saw a black cloud bouncing right across where Dairy Hut is. About that time my wife says, there goes the building.”


He was referring to his outbuilding which was hurled onto a neighbor’s home, leaving the building’s contents in place in his backyard.


“I’m almost positive it had to be a tornado,” he said. “I’ve never seen nothing like that around here. I thank God no one was hurt.”


Evarts Mayor Eddie Manning was out of town when the storm struck, but he said he was able to track its path from Harlan into Evarts.


“If you come up from Fairview, and look over the hill, there are a lot of trees twisted,” he said. “The one thing about Evarts is that we are a tight knit community and we will all pull together and help each other.”


Manning was receiving reports of damages to the city’s sewer plant, RV Park, trees hitting homes, shingles blown from homes and the major damages to the various businesses.


“Our main concern is getting the trees off the houses and the powerlines to make sure everyone stays safe,” he said, adding city crews will be out as long as it takes to assist those needing help.


He said he was pleased with the response of various emergency agencies within the city and those that came to help from other areas, such as the sheriff’s department.


Damages were also reported to the Catrons Creek, Cawood, Wallins and Harlan areas.


Kentucky Utilities reported 11,000 people in their service area without power. Harlan County Emergency Management Director David McGill said 6,700 were without power in the county.


Anyone living in Evarts with damage and needing assistance is asked to call city hall.