Tornadoes touch down in Pickens County

By Jason Evans

Staff Reporter

COUNTY — Two tornadoes touched down in Pickens County in the early-morning hours Monday.

The National Weather Service said that an EF2 tornado touched down near the Pickens-Greenville county line at 3:42 a.m., producing winds of 120 mph.

The northern and southern parts of Pickens County were the hardest hit, including areas around Liberty, Clemson, Central, Marietta and Pumpkintown, according to Pickens County community relations manager Jamie Burns.

“We had a big storm last night, a couple of big storms,” acting administrator Ken Roper said during his daily Facebook Live update Monday morning.

Three people were injured in Pumpkintown due to the tornado, Roper said Tuesday morning.

“Keep those folks in your thoughts and prayers,” he said.

An EF0 tornado touched down in the Easley area at 3:40 a.m., the National Weather Service said.

That tornado generated winds up to 85 mph and “went basically down Highway 93 from Liberty through Central,” Roper said.

The county activated its alternate Emergency Management Operations Center to handle the volume of calls, he said.

“Calls were coming in all night long,” Roper said.

Having both operations centers operating “gives us a lot of flexibility in Pickens County,” he said.

During this week’s Easley City Council’s meeting, held virtually Monday evening, Easley Mayor Butch Womack gave an example of the storm’s ferocity.

“I listened to the fire department go to a call at Whispering Pines, to a tree on a house,” he said. “A little more than an hour later, they made it to that house. It took them that long to cut the trees out of the way to get there. They tried two different routes. That’s just how bad it was in town, especially on that side over there.”

The city’s fire department responded to 32 calls for service during the storm, Womack said.

That number doesn’t include the calls that the police or public works departments responded to.

“They all worked together to get the streets opened back up,” Womack said. “That’s our main thoughts, to get the streets opened back up, where emergency vehicles can respond again.”

Most of the damage in Easley was caused by downed trees, city administrator Stephen Steese said.

The storm blew the roof off and separated the bricks at a dugout at Woodside Mill Park, he said.

A couple of houses in the Woodside Mill community had trees fall on them, Steese said.

“For the most part, most of the city streets, the trees have been removed,” he said. “The slowdown in getting them removed is getting the power cut off associated with the lines.”

The storm damage is a reminder of the importance of staying at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, so as not to tax the emergency response system further.

“We need to be doing our part and not making the situation worse, so stay at home if you can,” Roper said.

The storm left thousands of county residents in the dark, as Duke Energy and Blue Ridge Electric Cooperative had crews working around the clock to restore power. As of early Tuesday afternoon, Duke Energy’s outage map was still showing around 2,000 customers in the Pickens County area without power. Blue Ridge, meanwhile, had fewer than 800 Pickens County customers without power as of 5:45 a.m. Tuesday, just 24 hours after the company reported 12,588 outages in the county.

More than 10,000 Blue Ridge customers in neighboring Oconee County were still without power early Tuesday as well after an EF3 tornado swept through Seneca.

“Crews worked through the night on assembling four new steel transmission-line poles to replace those damaged on Monday by the tornado’s direct hit,’ Blue Ridge spokesman Terry Ballenger said in a news release. “The transmission facilities, located near Seneca in Oconee County, are the power source for seven Blue Ridge substations. Efforts are directed toward having that line re-energized sometime today.

“The other outages scattered across the cooperative’s five-county service area will be attacked today by all in-house and contract crews. They will be joined by 12 fresh crews from outside the area that will be part of the repair work starting this morning.”