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Christmas storm slams Lawrence Co.

MONTICELLO – They were waiting on Christmas.

     Jimmy Sutton of Lawrence County was at his home off of Highway 184 waiting for some family members to arrive so holiday celebrations could begin when he looked out a window about 4 p.m. He said he saw what looked like a thick fog and rotating winds.

     Everyone in the house got into a central hallway and listened to the fury of the storm outside.

     “It sounded like a train or a big truck going by,” Sutton said.

     Lawrence County was among areas nationwide hit by Christmas Day storms. And though the National Weather Service hasn’t yet officially declared what hit Lawrence County on Christmas a tornado, the wreckage of whatever it was remains behind.

     Sutton lives behind a trailer park he operates and every one of the approximately five homes at the park suffered some damage. At least one trailer home was destroyed.

     Sutton’s office building for the park and his real estate company had most of the roof ripped off. The remains of downed trees, power lines and wire and destroyed structures littered the road up and down from Sutton’s business.

     As of Wednesday morning, about 35 customers with Southern Pine Electric Power Association were without power, said company representative Leif Munkel.

     “They’re having to rebuild the lines,” he said.

     Southern Pine trucks were on the scene beginning work Wednesday morning, and Munkel estimated power could be restored as early as 12:30 p.m.

     About 10 or 11 families were left displaced Wednesday night, said Monticello Mayor Dave Nichols. The Red Cross provided shelter for the families in a hotel.

     Nichols said to his knowledge, there were no serious injuries, only what he described as “a lot of scrapes cuts and bruises.”

     However, Sutton reported a man was struck by lightning Tuesday at Sutton’s trailer park. Emergency officials were unable to provide confirmation of the incident Wednesday morning.

     Early estimates provided by the Monticello Fire Department indicate at least seven people went to the hospital. Details on the current status of those people were unavailable.

     Official counts of damaged structures haven’t been conducted yet, but early estimates indicate 19 residences and seven businesses suffered at least some damage, with at least 15 of those structures destroyed or seriously damaged.

     Among those structures suffering nearly complete destruction was the former Rushing Furniture Store, across Highway 184 from Sutton’s trailer park.

     Tuesday morning, property owner Wayne Peyton could claim two buildings as part of the former furniture store site.

     Wednesday morning, he owned one building and a slab. The second building was obliterated, leaving only a bare concrete foundation.

     “I saw half that building on (Highway) 27,” Peyton joked as he surveyed the damage Wednesday morning.

     He’d planned to turn the structures into apartments. Now, he figures the remaining building will also have to come down.

     “I don’t know what I’m going to do now,” Peyton said after walking through the rubble.

     After a moment, he shrugged and offered an idea.

     “Take it as it comes,” he said.

     Nichols said the National Weather Service was supposed to make its determination Wednesday as to whether a tornado touched down in Lawrence County, but Nichols has no doubts.

     “I can tell you it was a tornado,” Nichols said.

     According to Nichols, the still-unconfirmed tornado initially touched down on Highway 184 behind Sutton’s property and tracked east down 184 before picking up at the junction of Highway 27 and touching back down north of Monticello by the new National Guard Armory.

     Nichols said there was no damage inside the Monticello city limits, with all storm-related damage occurring at the edge of town.

     In addition to the damage along Highway 184, Nichols said several homes suffered damage by the new armory, though the armory itself remained untouched.

     In Lincoln County, some power outages were reported in the Loyd Star area. Other than that, however, emergency response officials reported no damage.

     “We were lucky,” said Civil Defense Director Clifford Galey.