COPPERAS COVE — On Monday morning, residents were outside cleaning up debris from Sunday’s storm. By late afternoon, the National Weather Service confirmed what many residents suspected: The storm carried a tornado.
Officially, it was classified as an EF-2 tornado, with winds reaching speeds up to approximately 115 miles per hour.
The tornado uprooted several large trees, flattened street signs that were bent from the bottom and ripped shingles off roofs. Some houses were damaged more severely. The worst damage was near the intersection of Grimes Crossing Road and Big Divide Road.
“I knew there was a storm coming, but I didn’t know how big it was, but it started getting dark around 5 p.m.,” said Copperas Cove resident Daniel Luna, who lives on Grimes Crossing, near Big Divide. “I was actually looking out the front door of my house, and I saw the transformer across the street blow. It was extremely loud and there were sparks everywhere, and that’s when I knew we had to take shelter in the bathroom.”
Luna, his wife and their youngest son hid in one of the bathrooms of their house while the rest of the structure was destroyed around them. Luna said they probably remained in there for at least 15 minutes, and he only came out of the bathroom when he heard the Copperas Cove Police Department attempting to contact them.
“It was terrifying in there,” Luna said. “I’ve never been in a storm before where I feared for my life, but yesterday I did. While we were in the bathroom we could hear stuff inside the house breaking, we couldn’t tell if it was glass or the roof or the walls. I only came out because I thought I heard people calling for help, but it was the police asking if we needed help, and I let them know we were OK.”
The roof of Luna’s home had caved in over the garage and multiple rooms in the house were missing chunks of roof. A tree in the front yard had been uprooted and the Luna family had no idea where it landed.
According to the NWS, the path of the tornado stretched almost one mile in length with damage noted to homes and property on either side of the path.
Other streets with significant damage were Logsdon Street, Colorado Drive and Taylor Creek Road.
Cove resident Erasmus Julien, who lives near the intersection of Talley Circle and Colorado Drive, said his house sustained no damage, but he had damage to his fence, trees and shed. He described watching the storm come in.
“The sun was out, and then all of a sudden a wind came in, it got dark, the lights went off, and once the lights got off then the wind started blowing,” he said of the experience. “We just rushed into the nearest bathroom that’s, you know, not near a window, and then I came out to check and all I saw is debris flying everywhere.”
Another resident, Julie Schwyhart said her house sustained damage to the roof and the fence and her camper in the back yard blew over. A big chunk of metal roof from a house down the road blew into her yard. She said she and her children ran to the middle of the house when the storm was coming through.
“I don’t know how to describe it,” Schwyhart said of the sound.
The community response was quick, however.
Julien said everybody came out of their house to assess the damage and check on each other after the storm had passed.
Schwyhart said she had friends come from as far as Moody and Gatesville to help her tarp her roof.
The tarp was purchased at HomeBase in Copperas Cove. HomeBase normally closes at 6 p.m. on Sundays but reopened from approximately 7:30 to 10 p.m. to help those affected by the storm, a manager said.
On Monday, U-Haul Company of North Austin said it is offering 30 days of free self-storage and U-Box container usage to residents in Copperas Cove and surrounding areas impacted by Sunday’s severe weather.
“Some of our neighbors are still assessing the damage,” stated Matthew McMillan, U-Haul Company of North Austin president. “There is debris everywhere. The impact has created a need for self-storage as residents go through the clean-up process. We want to help by offering people a secure place to bring their belongings.”
Deputy Fire Chief Gary Young said the fire and police departments had a total of 15 emergency responders in the area last night, making early assessments on the number of properties that were damaged and checking to see if anyone needed medical assistance. The emergency center was also operational, he said.
“We don’t have tornado sirens in Copperas Cove, but we do have a phone notification system called Code Red,” Young said. “You can sign up on the city website, it is right on the home page, and you sign up for text and call notifications. The first alert about this storm went out at 4:43 p.m., and it was put out as a severe thunderstorm warning. The next alert was for a tornado warning at 5:33 p.m.”
Young said that if people use the notification system it can help protect and save lives.
“We encourage the community to pay attention to the weather and take an active role in staying safe,” he said.
In rural Kempner, Sonya Brend said her family had been in the pool when the storm came in. She sent her four children, three grandchildren and two foster children into the house and into the closet.
“I gave them dessert. They ate the dessert in the closet.”
None of the family members were hurt but the animals were traumatized, she said.
“I watched my barn peel like a banana,” she said. “I had no idea it was actually a tornado. I was looking out the front door and actually saw my tree pulled out and off the ground before it dropped back down.” Her 13-acre property was littered with debris, including the tongue from a mobile home that came from somewhere else, she said.
Brend said her family had just moved into their new home around four months ago. Before that, they lived on Big Divide Road — the street in Copperas Cove hit hardest by the tornado.
“All of this,” she said, indicating the children’s bikes and toys, “were blown off the porch and out into the yard. Everything start hitting the side of my husband’s truck, and it took a lot of damage. One of the trees (in the side yard) lifted off, and I still have no idea where it actually landed.”
Also in the Kempner area, Kempner city officials posted the closing of Sylvia Tucker Memorial Park’s playground, bathrooms and walking trail due to downed trees.
In Killeen, no serious damage was reported, according to Killeen Police Department officials.
Lampasas City Manager Finley deGraffenried provided this assessment of storm damage in the city: “With some exception, damage to the City was generally minimal. The City did experience downed trees and limbs, some of which resulted in isolated power outages affecting approximately 30 residents. Power was mostly restored within 2 hours of the storm passing. About six homes and businesses that have damaged or ruptured electric service drops due to limbs on the property owner’s side will require repair by an electrician prior to reconnection by the City. The City Street Department was called out to remove debris from roadways and limbs cut by the electric department, however; was only needed for approximately three hours last night.
“One home suffered damage at the corner of 2nd and Western Street when a large pecan tree fell into the home causing roof and electric service damage. At this time I am not aware of any other damage to homes. There was also damage to one billboard on Key Avenue at the intersection of Sulphur Creek.”
Herald Managing Editor Rose Fitzpatrick and staff writer David A. Bryant contributed to this story.