A deadly storm hit the Texas Panhandle town of Perryton, leaving a devastating path of destruction in its wake. Sabrina Devers, a local ranch owner, witnessed the storm approach her ranch with golf ball and softball-sized hail, followed by a tornado that spawned across the high plains toward Perryton.
After the tornado passed, Devers drove into town to find a quarter-mile-wide (400 meters) path of wreckage that stretched for a mile (1.6 kilometers) long.
The Thursday afternoon storm resulted in at least three deaths, over 100 injuries, and destroyed hundreds of homes.
Vehicles were thrown into buildings, and power and cellphone services were knocked out in Perryton, a town with a population of 8,000 located about 115 miles (185 kilometers) northeast of Amarillo, just south of the Oklahoma line.
Devers described the devastation as “unbelievable,” with the storm throwing a tanker truck into a pasture, according to reports from Fox Weather.
Efforts to clean up after the deadly storm in Perryton, Texas were already underway on Friday, even as the system continued to wreak havoc as it moved across the Deep South.
The storm caused heavy rain in the Florida Panhandle and strong winds in Mississippi, resulting in a total of five deaths: three in Texas, one in Florida, and one in Mississippi.
According to a Facebook post by Ochiltree General Hospital in Perryton, the medical center treated 115 patients with minor to major injuries caused by the storm. The injuries included head trauma, collapsed lungs, lacerations, and broken bones.
Kelly Judice, the interim CEO of Ochiltree General Hospital, stated that the hospital was prepared to receive more patients and had not seen as many as initially expected.
Despite this, she emphasized that the hospital is fully operational and ready to provide necessary medical care to the community, with clinics also open. Judice urged the public to seek medical attention if necessary, assuring them that the hospital and its staff are ready to take care of their needs.
Due to the high influx of patients suffering from storm-related injuries, Ochiltree General Hospital has requested people to reschedule their routine medical checkups for a later time.
The hospital has prioritized treating storm victims with serious injuries, and this request is aimed at allowing medical staff to focus their efforts on providing timely treatment to those in need.
The hospital was running on a generator, and some patients were receiving treatment in a conference room that was illuminated by natural light, as the examination rooms in one of the clinics did not have windows, according to Judice.
On Thursday, Dr. Mark Garnett, the medical director of Majestic Laser on Main Street, was among those who offered assistance at the hospital after hitching a ride there following the tornado.
Garnett praised the tremendous response from the local community and the large number of people who volunteered to help out. Prior to the tornado, Garnett and his clinic staff on Main Street had been listening to the rain and watching the lights flicker, but believed that the tornado might be passing north of Perryton rather than directly over them.
Garnett recalled that they could hear the sound of rain intensifying, and then they began to hear hail falling. This was followed by everyone’s phones buzzing with a tornado warning.
Garnett proceeded to the clinic door and realized that he was caught in the midst of the tornado. He witnessed trees and debris flying through the air and quickly sought refuge with the clinic staff at the back of the building while the glass from the front door shattered.
Upon hearing the tornado pass, Garnett stepped outside onto Main Street and was taken aback by the extensive devastation and debris scattered in the area.
“We were all just wondering what had happened and how we were still alive,” he said, still shocked by the experience.
Perryton Fire Chief Paul Dutcher approximated that around 150 to 200 houses in the community were destroyed, and many storefronts and buildings in the downtown region were entirely wiped out or partially collapsed.
According to Dutcher, who appeared on NBC’s “Today” show, the disaster was a heartbreaking tragedy. “Although everything you see behind me can be rebuilt after the incident, the lives we have lost are a genuine tragedy,” he said.
Tornadic activity is not common at this time of the year, as per meteorologist Matt Mosier at the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma, but it isn’t impossible to occur.
“Meteorologically, you expect thunderstorms this time of year,” Mosier stated. “It’s certainly not unprecedented, but tornadoes aren’t on a lot of people’s minds since it’s an off-season compared to the period they typically focus on (tornadoes).”
Mosier said that this week’s weather has been very warm because of the moist, unstable conditions, which is an unusual occurrence as it has combined with strong wind shear.
On Thursday night, at least one verified tornado passed through Escambia County in the Florida Panhandle, causing a fatality. A tree was uprooted and fell onto a house, killing one person, county spokesperson Andie Gibson declared to the Pensacola News Journal.
Since Thursday evening, the Pensacola area has experienced flash flooding due to a rainfall of between 12 and 16 inches (30 and 40 centimeters), according to Caitlin Baldwin, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Mobile in Pensacola.
In West Pensacola, flash floods affected an apartment complex that had to be evacuated of all 146 residents. Boats were utilized to transport some of them to a nearby community center, reported Davis Wood, public information officer for Escambia County Public Safety. No injuries were recorded.
A man died in Mississippi due to heavy weather after a tree fell on him early Friday. Canton Police Chief Otha Brown stated to WLBT-TV that the man was killed when high winds caused a tree to fall on his carport as he was getting into his car.
The storm system brought along the possibility of hail and tornados in northwestern Ohio.
As per poweroutage.us, over 536,000 customers were without power in Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida by Friday afternoon.
Meteorologist Brett Muscha from the National Weather Service in Amarillo said that the organization was evaluating destruction in the Perryton zone on Friday to establish the tornado rating.
Muscha stated that thunderstorms were still possible on Friday evening in the far northern Texas Panhandle and Oklahoma Panhandle. While the danger of significant and severe storms was highest in Oklahoma, with golf ball-sized hail and wind gusts of 60 mph (100 kph).
Heat advisories were also in place in Texas and the southern states, including Louisiana. It was predicted to be near 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius), feeling as hot as 110 degrees Fahrenheit (43 degrees Celsius) through the Juneteenth holiday, with blistering temperatures expected to last throughout the weekend.
During the previous week, powerful storms swept across the South, causing damaging winds that uprooted trees, damaged structures and blew vehicles off highways from Texas to Georgia.