‘It was so fast’: Residents clean-up damage after EF-1 tornado hits Drummonds

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Trees down in Lynn Simmons’ pasture in the Campground area, which received the brunt of the damage from the tornado.

It happened so quickly.

“We hadn’t been home 15-20 minutes and then it started really coming down,” Jenny Billings said. Once she saw the lightning and the green color in the sky, she knew it was serious.

Her son, Eric, pulls up on a tractor. They’d been dealing with the aftermath of a tornado for three hours, including a fallen oak tree that was so large it took a track hoe to move it from across Billins Road.

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“It was just so fast,” he said. “The hook echo was right over us and then everything happened. The power went out and it was here.”

At 5:12 p.m. a tornado warning was issued for Fayette, Shelby and Tipton counties.

Three minutes later MemphisWeather.net reported tight rotation and early signs of a debris signature in the Glenn Springs area based on the radar. That’s when Tipton County’s emergency officials were notified a tornado had been spotted in the Glenn Springs area.

Fallen trees in the backyard of Floyd and Jenny Billings missed their pool.

The funnel dropped, uprooted trees, damaged houses and vehicles, leveled barns and displaced mailboxes before it moved on.

At 5:17 p.m. it was confirmed that a tornado had been spotted on Campground Road, east of Glenn Springs.

Jenny said the whole thing lasted a minute and a half.

“There was no warning, no siren, no nothing … after it hit, then (my husband) got an alarm on his phone. It came about two and a half minutes later.”

Just as the sirens began sounding, which was after the touchdown at Glenn Springs, the radar showed another a possible tornado was moving toward the southern part of the Brighton area, Mt. Carmel Road, Hwy. 14 and toward Salem. Meteorologists warned it was heading toward Charleston-Mason Road and encouraged everyone along the path to take cover.

Tipton County Emergency Management Agency Director Tommy Dunavant said there was no watch, the area just went into a warning.

“About a minute later they were calling me, telling me there was one on the ground. On my way out here I was looking up to see it. It was ugly.”

The warning was cancelled by 5:24 p.m.

Campground at Camp

Lynn Simmons, right, talks to Tipton County Emergency Management Agency Director Tommy Dunavant Monday afternoon as the National Weather Service and others survey the damage to his yard.

At Campground and Camp, the barn and property of Lynn Simmons were badly damaged. He was sitting at his desk, heard his road’s name on the weather coverage, then the tornado hit. That was all the warning he had.

“They said something about Campground Road and that’s when all hell broke loose,” he said. “I heard the wind get kinda strong, then I heard about three booms and that was it. Just about a minute after that, I walked out of the house and all of this was done. I didn’t have time to go nowhere – when I heard the boom it was all over with.”

Lynn’s barn and a wooden storage building were destroyed and will need to be replaced. Pieces of the tin barn, and his son’s nearby metal barn, were strewn all over the intersection and in the neighbors’ trees. Many of his trees were broken and uprooted. He had broken windows and other damage to his house, which he said he’s lived in his entire life.

It was the most heavily-damaged property in Tipton County.

Joey Wilkins, right, talks about the storm and the path of debris in the neighborhood. Behind him are downed trees, a fence and a swingset and there is sheet metal 50 feet high in the tree on the right. His home, built by his great-grandparents in 1937, sustained a lot of damage to the roof and front porch.

About 200 yards across the road, the home of Joey and Cindy Wilkins was badly damaged, as were the homes of several other neighbors. The Wilkins family wasn’t home when it hit – their daughter had softball practice at Munford Middle in preparation for Monday’s sectionals game – and they were in the car and about a mile away.

“We had to try to run from it,” Joey said. “I seen the tornado and I knew it was here, but our kids were in the car. I’m just glad we wasn’t home.”

His home was built in 1937 by his great-grandparents. Almost every shingle was blown off of the roof, which was completely destroyed by a pecan tree limb from Lynn’s yard, and the posts to the front porch had been taken. His shop was damaged, with debris flying into the field across the street, and his Harley sustained damage as well. The six-foot wooden fence had been pulled up, his children’s two-level wooden swing set was overturned and a 20-foot Crepe Myrtle tree had been completely uprooted and dropped about 50 yards away.

Road signs, like this one at the corner of Campground and Camp, were also damaged by the tornado.

He’s had high-wind damage, but this was the first tornado to hit.

“I was on Munford-Gilt Edge. I could see metal four- or five-hundred feet in the air, swirling. I stopped at Mr. Vernon Parimore’s and said, ‘There’s a tornado right there!’ The kids seen it and my wife seen it. I could see metal and it looked like it was coming closer, so I just turned and ran to Lumpkin’s Garage. I stopped again and I could still see metal flying in the air. I made it to Naifeh’s, still see metal flying in the air so I just went to the water plant and got in the pipe galley.”

Wilkins works for the City of Munford’s Public Works Department. He kept his family safe there.

“It’s all big concrete structure, big pipes. I didn’t know what to do.”

Clean-up was underway early Monday at the home of Joey and Cindy Wilkins in the Campground area.

On Monday morning he had already cleaned up a good bit of damage, with the help of friends and family members. There were several dump trailers, Bobcats, and crews working to remove everything that needed to be replaced.

Even though they had a tremendous amount of damage, Joey feels blessed.

“It could be worse, it could all be gone and we could have been gone with it.”

Plantation Road 

This tree in the 200 block of Plantation Road was uprooted by the storm, but the three pools surrounding it were left alone.

Brittany, who lives in the 200 block of Plantation Road, was filming the tornado before it hit her house.

Inside, her dad was cooking hamburgers. She grabbed him, her mother, and her three children and everyone went into the bathroom just as it hit.

“We literally made it in the bathroom just in time. It was fast.”

Several large trees in their yard were uprooted, a couple of them landing on her house. There were windows busted out of the home, vehicles damaging by falling limbs, and their fence was pulled up by a neighbor’s tree.

In the front yard there were two inflatable pools and an above ground pool, with a Tulip Poplar tree in between them. The tree had fallen, but the pools, and even the children’s swim googles in the grass next to them, were fine.

“Those were fine,” she said, laughing.

The Munford Fire Department and Tipton County Sheriff’s Office were among those working to make the roads passable after the tornado hit Plantation Road.

Like many Tipton Countians, Brittany pays attention to the sirens and warnings but didn’t think anything major would happen.

“I didn’t believe it at first when we heard the sirens, because you know how many times we get sirens out here. We were cooking dinner and didn’t think anything of it. We were out here looking at it, looking at the colors (of the sky). We barely made it in there.”

It was their first tornado.

“We heard the roaring. I’ve always heard on TV it gets really still, but it didn’t get still. The wind was still going. That was kinda why I didn’t think nothing of it.”

Residents of Glenview Estates, near Plantation and Munford-Gilt Edge Road, have video of the twister tearing through the area north of the subdivision. It can be seen in dozens of videos behind the high school and various points in downtown Munford.

The silver lining

On Monday, the National Weather Service surveyed the damage and determined the tornado was an EF-1 that was 300 yards wide and had peak wind speeds of up to 95 miles per hour.

They believe it began at 5:08 p.m. between Dolan Road and Glenn Springs Road and traveled nearly five miles before dissipating just east of Beaver Road, near Valentine Park.

There were no injuries reported, no loss of life.

The National Weather Service’s preliminary survey shows the tornado was a 300-yard wide EF-1 with wind speeds up to 95 mph. It traveled five miles through western Tipton County.

There was no damage reported in Brighton and no confirmation a tornado touched down in the eastern part of the county.

Those whose homes were hit have each found the silver lining after the storm.

“Within 10 minutes I looked and I saw my whole family coming with chainsaws and trucks,” Jenny Billings said. “It’s the blessing of living in the country, having a big family.”

Dunavant said it was heartwarming to see how quickly the community members rose up to help one another after devastation.

The remains of a large oak tree in front of the Billings home line the side of the road after being moved.

“Once they knew everyone was okay they were out there having fun with the chainsaws, cutting the trees down,” he said.

Jenny said right before the storm she’d told Eric she was worried about several trees and most of them came down in the storm. She’s also told her husband recently she was ready to get rid of a wrought iron table and chair set; the table was picked up by the tornado and hasn’t yet been located.

It’s almost as if God was working through her to-do list.

“I was worried that tree would land on my pool, but it was twisted the other way. It was a blessing. I said, ‘Well, thank you, God, for that …’ It’s nothing that can’t be fixed.”

The sign at Poplar Grove Assembly of God Church was damaged in the storm. Behind it, the Tipton County Mobile Command Unit was set up to help manage the emergency and firefighters from the Tipton County Fire Department and Gilt Edge Fire Department were gathered with other emergency officials.

Jenny’s neighbor, Amy Bishop, was not so lucky.

“Everybody’s okay, the house is not,” her son Justin said. “We’ve lost pretty much the whole backside of the house.”

Amy and her husband moved into the home 50 years ago after getting married. Next month they were supposed to be celebrating their golden anniversary, but he passed away in February. Still grieving that loss makes having a home destroyed by a tornado worse.

The ceiling in both the living room and primary bedroom have caved in. Water was dripping from sheet rock while friends and family packed her china Monday morning. The home is no longer habitable.

“I’m just trying to pack up what I can salvage,” Amy said.

Justin lives in Texas and drove back to Tennessee just as soon as he heard the news. He arrived overnight and will stay to help his mother through the week.

Utility crews worked into the night and through Monday to restore services.

She may never sleep in her room again. They’re not sure if the home can be fixed.

“If they can’t repair it God has another plan for her,” Justin said. “We will take every day as it comes. We’re gonna move forward for her.”

Though she’s emotional, she tries her best to stay positive.

“It’s going to be a new journey for me now, I’m just looking at it that way. My husband’s gone and I have memories. It’s a new journey.”

Though they have a lot of downed trees and damage to several properties, Jenny said nothing of value was damaged in the storm.

“I told Floyd we value our family, that’s where we put our value, and we’re all okay. We’re okay. It’s a blessing.”

Echo Day
Author: Echo Day

Echo Day is an award-winning journalist, photographer and designer. She is currently The Leader's managing editor.

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