Derecho remembered on anniversaryPublished 9:15am Friday, June 28, 2013
Lawrence County Engineer Doug Cade was coming back to Ironton on U.S. 52 with his son, Jon, when he saw a thick cloud of dust hovering over the city’s skyline.
“I thought it was a tornado,” Cade said. “It was completely different from anything I have ever seen before and quite honestly it scared me. I thought I was driving into a tornado.”
Not a tornado, but just as deadly as destructive, and on Saturday it will be the one year anniversary of one of the severest thunderstorm complexes to hit in the history of the United States.
What Cade was driving into was the derecho of June 2012 that is now enshrined in the meteorological history books. Hitting the Midwest early morning on Friday, June 29, the storm stretched for 800 miles with wind gusts reaching 91 miles per hour in Indiana and hail stones about three inches in diameter in Illinois. Lasting until 4 a.m. the next day, the storm racked up almost $3 billion in damage. Before it was over 28 would be dead.
For Lawrence County, the derecho meant massive damage and marathon man-hours for Cade’s crews and those in charge of local emergency disasters.
“I immediately went into the house and turned on the radio and heard the reports of damage all over the county,” Cade said.
Reports kept coming in of trees falling on power lines knocking out electricity and phone service to thousands in the county.
“We didn’t know how bad it was until 10:30 the next morning because people couldn’t report that they were having trouble,” Cade said.
That Friday night those crews worked until 4:30 a.m. Saturday morning chain sawing through fallen trees.
“We had the electric company turn off the electric so we could get to work on the trees that were lying on live active lines,” the engineer said. “We regrouped at 10:30 the next morning. When the county emergency system was activated we realized how major the damage was.”
Sunday was more of the same with crews back out at 6 a.m. working until 8 that night.
“We had well over 200 trees on county roads that were down,” Cade said. “We wanted to make sure the roads were open so people could go where there was electric and emergency services could get in.”
Total cost for the county was more than $42,000 with the Federal Emergency Management Agency reimbursing the county for $21,619. Of that $5,991 was for 87.5 percent of overtime for that three-day weekend and $15,000 for equipment charges.
As the engineer crews were out clearing roads, the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office sent out extra patrols to areas hit making sure those isolated by the storm were safe.
“We sent officers out to areas where the power lines were down,” Lawrence County Sheriff Jeff Lawless said. “And we kept an eye on businesses with alarms out. Our special deputies joined in to assist to do patrols for free. It was certainly a trying time but everybody pulled together.”
As the trees were cleared and power slowly brought back on to households, the effects of the derecho were still being felt, this time by the staff of the Lawrence County Department of Job and Family Services.
Since the storm hit at the end of the month, their clients on food stamps had already spent them on milk, meat and eggs, that were now quickly going bad in warming refrigerators.
“The electricity was out and they were losing perishable items,” Gene Myers, director of the county DJFS, said. “They had to get those replaced. Most of them don’t have an alternate way of storing their food.”
That meant long lines of clients coming into the JFS headquarters on Seventh Street to meet with their caseworkers. More food stamps were dispensed on a pro rata basis to cover what they would have spent for those few days at the end of the month.
Then Mother Nature struck again.
“Then we had another severe storm with an outage the next week,” Myers said. “We had replaced the food assistance for the end of the month and they got their food at the first of the month. Then the electric went out and it was bam, bam for a lot of individuals.”