The old saying goes that there are no atheists in foxholes. For Misty Winters, that holds true for tornadoes.
In the early morning hours of Saturday morning, Winters was sleeping in her bed. Her son, Gage, was sleeping in the bedroom as well.
It had been raining, but then the wind outside started to pick up, really howling through the Snyder community. The dust and debris blown in by the storm was hitting the house so strongly that the staccato of it made her think it was hailing.
“He said, ‘That storm is really picking up,’” Winters said, referring to John Nelms, who was at the house and suggested they get up.
They did. That was when the house seemed to come down around them.
A massive tree outside the residence had fallen through the roof.
Pointing to the bed where the tree’s thick branches rested Monday morning, Winters then gestured to Nelms outside, who was working to dismantle the tree with a chainsaw.
“That branch is where he had been not three seconds before,” she said.
Another tree had fallen and punched a much smaller hole in the roof on the other end of the house, so the three gathered up blankets and pillows and laid down on the living room floor, spending the night watching rain fall in the kitchen.
Nelms said she’d never been afraid of storms before, but surviving the experience could only be attributed to the supernatural.
“If you don’t believe in God, let me tell you my story,” she said.
The Snyder residents weren’t alone in their experience. They had been hit by an EF2 tornado that started northeast of Hamburg, tracking along Ashley 70 before running along U.S. 82 until it completed a 20-mile track near the Chicot County line. It lasted from 3:07 a.m. to 3:28 a.m.
Along the way it wreaked destruction, snapping trees and high-tension lines, and two mobile homes were destroyed in its wake. One of the hones was thrown 15 to 20 feet from its foundation. Its peak winds reached 130 miles per hour and it was 1,000 yards at its widest.
The National Weather Service also confirmed three EF1 tornadoes landed in Ashley County that morning, and a straight-line wind event caused further damage in other locations.
The National Weather Services’ preliminary survey said the first tornado of the morning was in West Crossett.
That EF-1 touched down at 2:45 a.m. and moved 4.47 miles before stopping approximately 2:52 a.m. The report says the storm began west of Ashley 286 and traveled east towards Hancock Road. The storm crossed Hancock and picked up just before reaching Hamm Lane. The tornado’s maximum width was 650 yards and its peak winds were reported at 108 miles per hour.
Danielle Rice — who lives on Hancock Road across from Beulahland Assembly of God — said that she and her family heard the storm and took cover. Rice said all of the windows on her house and a neighboring family member’s house were shattered from the debris flying off of the church across the street.
Just minutes after that storm ended, an EF-1 with peak winds of 105 miles per hour touched down in Milo at approximately 2:54 a.m. and lasted until 3:04 a.m.
The tornado traveled 9.38 miles and was 800 yards wide. The storm touched down south of Ashley 454 and west of Ashley 181. The NWS map shows that the tornado crossed U.S. 425 just north of Hamburg before it stopped.
The third tornado, also an EF-1, was the longest of the three. It started at 2:55 a.m. and lasted until 3:08 a.m.
The storm touched down west of Gardenia Street and traveled east. It crossed Binns Loop and continued to travel east, crossing U.S. 425. The storm went just between the intersections of Ashley 312 and Ashley 27 and Ashley 27 and Ashley 309 before it ended.
The tornado was 800 yards wide and traveled 10.38 miles with peak winds noted at 100 miles per hour. Where it crossed U.S. 425 is evident, with a clear line of broken pine trees pointing the direction of the storm’s trajectory.
The damage left 4,000 Entergy customers in Ashley County without power, of which 400 had been restored Monday afternoon. Customers with Ashley –Chicot Electric Cooperative were also without power as well.
By Tuesday morning, Entergy had whittled the number of customers without power down to 374 even though they had 365 broken poles and 363 spans of damaged wire were identified following the storm.
Entergy Spokesman Chris Wesson said he anticipated that customers in the Hamburg area with the heaviest damage would be restored no later than noon Tuesday, but said that areas along the U.S. 165 Corridor from Montrose to Parkdale could be without power until Friday as a result of extensive injury to transmission lines serving the area.
While the power was out and roads were still blocked, many government operations were put on pause. Hamburg School District closed classes for the first two school days following the storms.
Despite the widespread damage, Ashley County Sheriff Tommy Sturgeon said no one was killed or seriously injured in the tornadoes.
In the Montrose area, the tornado damage is evident. The city was without power and water following the storm, and Mayor Joseph Carlton said even assessing the damage had been tough because the city did not have equipment to clear the streets.
Houses were “smashed up,” he said, and residents were displaced.
Even though a tornado has not been officially confirmed, Carlton said he witnessed it.
“It was devastating to me. I actually saw the storm,” he said.
“It looked like a cloud funnel on its side. Then the tail just started coming down and it was just swirling and a light was behind it.
“When I discovered what it was, I ran back into my house, shut the door and it just came over.”
Carlton said he had a 16-by16 utility building that the storm had picked up and moved off its foundations.
“It went to turning trees over and taking roofs off,” Carlton said. “It lasted about 15, 20 minutes and the worst was gone. I looked out and saw it at the east of Montrose when it touched down again.
“When it got up, it took off toward Greenville, and it just went up in the sky, and it still had debris in it.”
Ashley County Judge Jim Hudson declared a state of disaster Monday. Gov. Asa Hutchinson also declared a state of emergency.
And while Hudson praised the linemen and county crews who worked to get roads clear and electricity returned, he also credited the people of the county in the early recovery.
“I think the cool part about all of this to me is that whenever this happened in Milo, Promiseland, North Crossett — every where it happened — the people of this county surprised me,” Hudson said. “Anyone that had a tractor or a chainsaw showed up to help their neighbor and that’s a big deal.
“That says volumes about our county’s character.
“I think people should know how hard our sheriff has worked. He toted ice and water for days, and is still doing it even today. He’s been working around the clock doing everything he can and I just don’t think people realize it.
“I’m proud of the way our county has responded but most importantly I’m thankful no one was hurt.”
That was a sentiment that Quorum Court Justice Carlton Lawrence seconded.
“People came through it with no major injuries and no one hurt. We know we can rebuild the things that were destroyed and the fact that no one was hurt was a blessing.”