Winds from the tornado that ripped through the Tinker Creed Road area off Highway 278 in Williston, South Carolina reached up to 140 mph according to a team from the National Weather Service on the ground surveying the damage.
“What we are doing is seeing evidence, looking for the damage, and based on that we come up with wind estimates,” said John Quagliariello, who works for the NWS in Columbia, S.C.
“And it’s quite possible, based on the damage we’re seeing here, winds were well over 125 , 130 miles per hour, if not higher. And we’ll kind of make that assessment throughout the day as we look at all the damage,” Quagliariello said around noon, while out inspecting the damage. Later in the day, after making their full assessment, his team determined the tornado produced EF3 damage and winds up to 140 mph.
The worst damage occurred between Savannah River Site and Williston according the NWS team.
“We suspect the tornado started in the Savannah River Site,” said Quagliariello. “There were numerous trees that were snapped and uprooted in that site and then it came into populated portions of Aiken County and produced a lot of this damage we’re seeing west of Williston. We still have to survey the rest of the track, but it looks like it very well could’ve crossed into western parts of Barnwell County and dissipated into Orangeburg County. It has the potential to be a long track tornado that moved through this area,” Quagliariello said earlier in the day.
The NWS team also emphasized how important it is for people to heed severe weather warnings and alerts. You can find the WJBF Weather alert app here.
“This is a great example of how the system works. We saw the potential for severe weather days in advance. We notified the public, we worked with our emergency management to get the word out.
We had tornado warnings out well in advance before the tornadoes touched down. And we’re hearing from people that received the warnings and knew what to do. They got to a room, to a hallway, to a safe place. I think because of those actions, a lot of lives were saved,” Quagliariello added.
The NWS later posted on Twitter that no serious injuries or deaths were reported as a result of the Aiken County tornado.
Aiken Electric Co-op power line workers we spoke with say they have lots of repair work to complete in the area, including replacing more than 60 power line poles.
Clean up work in the area is also underway. A team of volunteers from the Southern Baptist South Carolina Disaster Relief was at the home of Ann Thompson on Tinker Creed Road. She was in her house when the tornado came through. Her home and property suffered severe damage. The crew was working to clear debris with heavy equipment and chainsaws beginning early Tuesday morning.
They do the work at no cost to the homeowner, and the relief provided is not limited to just clearing trees and debris. There is emotional support as well. Thompson cried when she was told the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief team would be working on her property free of charge.
“She just hung her head, and there were tears, and she said thank you,” said Rick Burkey with the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief team. Burkey also works as a chaplain with the organization.
“She was in trauma, and still is. She was in the house, so the trauma is still there. And that’s what we work for too. We always have somebody to take care of the homeowner, consoling them, helping them out as we go,” added Burkey.