Donna and Clinton Pettiet have a new skylight above their hot tub on the porch of their house on North Lake Ferguson Road. It wasn’t a planned skylight, but when the tornado ripped through their property a week ago, it made its own decisions.
Donna said she suspects the tornado hit at about 3:21 a.m. after finding a clock in the street in front of their house stopped at that exact moment.
The National Weather Service sent a damage survey team through Washington County on Tuesday, confirming there was a tornado on Jan. 11.
Warning Coordination Meteorologist Felicia Bowser with the National Weather Service in Jackson said the NWS survey team determined an EF-2 tornado with winds reaching 130 mph made its way from Chicot County, Arkansas, and across the river to the east side of Lake Ferguson into Washington County, resulting in an upgrade in rating for the entire tornado.
“It was where there are a lot of lake homes, several of which were pretty banged up. Behind that were some trees, a lot of which were mowed down due to the tornado.”
The tornado, which was 1/2 mile wide, was recorded from 3:33 a.m. to 3:53 a.m. and its path was 17.8 miles in length.
Greenville, itself, was reported to have suffered sporadic straight-line winds.
“When it comes to Greenville within the downtown area, it was basically straight-line winds damage with a lot of peeled roofs and a few downed trees. The damage was rather sporadic. Around the downtown area within Greenville, it also was sporadic, seeing uprooting or snapped limbs or trees, but it wasn’t widespread.”
While the idea of living through a tornado can be terrifying for most, Donna said there wasn’t really enough time to be afraid.
“The whole thing didn’t last two minutes,” she said Thursday afternoon while surveying the damage to start repair work on their home.
Clinton remembers the storm picking him up off his bed as the tell-tale freight train sound filled the air.
As soon as the storm passed, Donna said she and her husband were sitting in their recliners in the pitch black of a lightless early morning, wondering what had just happened.
“That’s when I heard the water pouring in,” she said. “I walked to one side of the house and the water hit me in the head.”
There were holes in the ceiling from where part of the roof was ripped away.
Still calm to that point, the realization of what happened, and what it left behind, hit her.
“I had a little breakdown,” she said. “Clinton was asking me if I was hurt, but I said, ‘I’m just having a moment.’”
She still has those little moments from time to time, but knows she’s glad she and her husband made it through the ordeal unscathed.
Their home, on the other hand, is a different story.
The Pettiets have been through the floods of the last few years and spent time living in a travel trailer when access was limited. They want to rebuild, Clinton said, but the damage may just be too great.
During the midst of the storm, both said they could feel the house twisting and turning. Some of the windows in the house will now not close.
A newly installed air conditioner is now thrown down on the ground, destroyed.
Clinton’s music studio is under the weight of two 50-plus-year-old pecan trees.
But other items are surprisingly unharmed.
Donna decorated flower beds with glass mushrooms glued to cement blocks. Several of those remained where they were placed while others seemed as though they were picked up carefully and sat back down, unbroken, a few yards away.
The Pettiet’s property was bounded on both sides by a tin fence covered in yard art. The fence and the art are gone.
A small john boat was picked up, twisted and hung on the power line across the street.
Trees have been sawn out of the way just to make the road passable.
Power poles are down and lines are snapped.
There are tarps covering the holes in houses that still have at least some part of a roof.
The frame of the Pettiet’s home is still intact, but their neighbors aren’t so lucky.
Next door, a house was completely wiped off the stilts on which it rested. Luckily, no one was in the house when the storm hit.
It’s easy to see where the storm tracked on Lake Ferguson Road.
There’s little-to-no damage north and west of the Pettiet home, but, to the south, there is devastation in every square foot.
While the home owners work to clean and rescue what they can, they are looking ahead to another looming problem: river flooding.
The Mississippi River is expected to hit 49.5 feet on Jan. 26. If that prediction holds, work can continue, but once the river jumps to about 51 feet, the road will be flooded and work will have to halt.
Until that time, the Pettiets will work to repair and salvage what they can.
“We didn’t lose anything that can’t be replaced,“ Donna said. “We’re just glad to be here.”