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Van Buren County cleaning up after tornado causes heavy damage

By Gavin Lesnick

This article was originally published April 11, 2013 at 8:08 a.m. Updated April 11, 2013 at 2:04 p.m.


A small church in the rural Van Buren County town of Botkinburg, about 5 miles north of Clinton, was destroyed by a tornado Wednesday, April 10.

Tornado hits Van Buren County

Numerous homes were damaged and several destroyed by a tornado that touched down Wednesday in Van Buren County. (By Gavin Lesnick)
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Tornado rips through Van Buren County

A tornado that tore through Van Buren County left a path of destruction Wednesday afternoon, damagin...

Van Buren County tornado damage

Numerous homes were destroyed or damaged in a tornado that touched down in Van Buren County Wednesda...

This aerial photo shows the path of a tornado that ripped through a rural area in Van Buren County near Clinton on Wednesday, April 10. Among the dama...

BOTKINBURG — A tornado that touched down in rural Van Buren County damaged dozen structures, destroying five of them and injuring several people, authorities said Thursday.

County Judge Roger Hooper said five structures — including the Botkinburg Foursquare Church and an adjacent home — were total losses. Another 11 were considered heavily damaged and uninhabitable, and 22 had minor damage.

Four people were injured in the tornado, including a truck driver whose tractor-trailer was thrown off the highway near the church on U.S. 65 north of Clinton. Three were treated and released, and the fourth was held overnight with injuries not believed to be life-threatening.

"Not to have any fatalities is amazing considering the storm was about 30 miles in length and at some places a mile wide," Hooper said, standing just outside the leveled sanctuary of the Foursquare Church.

John Robinson, senior coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said there was "no doubt" a tornado caused the damage, but it was too early in an ongoing storm survey to pinpoint how large the twister was.

Ester Bass, the pastor of the church, was home when he received a call alerting him the church had been hit. He arrived to find it heavily damaged — one half completely collapsed and the roof ripped from the other.

"It was just heart-wrenching. We had spent so much time building it and establishing a church here," the 66-year-old Bass said. "Just to see it gone in seconds, you can almost hardly believe it."

Bass said the congregation will build back, though it may take time. He said for now, everyone is thankful the storm didn't roll through later Wednesday night when a service was planned.

"That's the miracle of it all," he said. "If it had been two hours later or an hour-and-a-half later, we'd have all been in there. And we'd have been in this part that's so destroyed."

No one was home in the house next door, either, where youth pastor Rocky Thomas, his wife and two young sons live. The storm ripped the roof from the two-story, wooden structure, demolished a pair of outside buildings and took out the carport, among other damage. Crews were working Thursday to salvage the house, which is believed to be a total loss.

"Three-quarters of the way down here, Mandy called me crying, 'Our house is gone,'" Thomas said, recalling his drive home after learning the tornado had moved through the community. "If someone had been in the house, it would have been tough. We don't know if we would have survived."

Across U.S. 65 and just a block north, family members worked to salvage items from a woman's home that was demolished by the tornado.

Jarrett Watts, 63, said his son-in-law's mother lived in the house and was in the bathroom when the tornado struck, tearing the roof off, knocking down the walls and leaving only the foundation and flooring in place. Possessions were scattered across the yard, which was also strewn with snapped trees, overturned trailers and downed wiring.

Watts said his relative was hospitalized and had to get staples in her head, but she is expected to recover.

"Thank god they're just alive," Watts said, taking a break from sorting through the wreckage. "It's a blessing. It's a miracle. You can see — there's not much left."


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TheBatt says... April 12, 2013 at 6:25 p.m.

I am puzzled why most of the coverage of this tornado and its aftermath is centered on the damage zone near Botkinburg, when some of the widest damage is actually South-West of Clinton between Scotland and Clinton. Particularly hard-hit is an area just West of Culpepper Mountain (Walnut Grove) - centered on Hardy Hill Rd., and across 95 from that intersection. Barns, sheds, roofs, and homes destroyed and trees down everywhere. Power will be VERY slow getting restored, as power poles are all on the ground, and thousands of trees are also down across the power line right-of-ways. Several volunteers who have been to the Botkinburg area and the Walnut Grove area have said the overall damage is worse in the Walnut Grove part of the path.

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