Daily Progress, Jacksonville, TX

May 23, 2013

Tornado watch sparks concern; thunderstorms kill power, knock over tree limbs, wall of downtown building

Ben Tinsley
Jacksonville Daily Progress

JACKSONVILLE — Tuesday's thunderstorm and tornado watch started with a lot of local and statewide concern. In this portion of East Texas, it caused as many as 12,000 power outages – but no reported injuries.

In Jacksonville, there were downed power lines, lots of torn, scattered tree branches, and a portion of a downtown wall knocked in on an already-destroyed building.

However the storm, which prompted city officials to discuss emergency measures earlier in the day, ended fairly peacefully.

City Manager Mo Raissi and other city officials continued to monitor weather conditions through Tuesday night, as public works employees worked diligently to clean up  debris and other public obstructions.

“Our public works people went out today to get what they couldn't get last night,” Raissi said Wednesday. “They continued cleaning up debris. We had some calls on downed power lines too, and the fire department checked to make sure everything was okay.”

The National Weather Service attributed the statewide weather problems to a “very moist and unstable air mass” that caused showers and thunderstorms and provoked the watch, which did not result in any local tornadic action.

A large portion of the outer wall of the charred husk of Yum-Yums, 215 S. Main St. was knocked down by winds and rain. It was destroyed during an April fire,

According to the Cherokee County Central Appraisal District, the $74,970 property is owned by a Mary R. Johnson, but a woman identifying herself as Johnson contacted the Jacksonville Daily Progress Wednesday to say she sold the property to Robert and Tina Lane in 2008.

The power outages caused by the storm were pervasive.

“At this point, we've got a little over 1,500 customers still out in East Texas and that's scattered – 800 in Tyler, 350 in Jacksonville, a couple of hundred in Athens, and a couple of hundred in Palestine,”  Charles Hill, Oncor's regional customer operations manager, explained Wednesday afternoon.

It was reported that Jacksonville residents  clogged city lines Tuesday asking to be placed on the CodeRED tornado warning system, when they could have placed themselves in that system by going online at www.ecnet-work.com/codered.

To be fair, Jacksonville Police Chief Reece Daniel said, many of the residents who called the city had already registered on the CodeRED system and didn't realize it.

Also reported was that statewide, the sheer volume of people trying to monitor a  statewide, telephonic, meeting reviewing weather and safety conditions crashed the system, forcing the meeting to be rescheduled.

But Police Chief Reece also didn't agree that any phone lines were really crashed by people panicking.

“In my opinion the phone line issues were more weather-related than user-related,” Daniel said. “The same is true for power outages.”

Daniel said he would further argue that city officials did not see any true panic Tuesday.

“It's only human for people to be concerned in the wake of natural disasters like we saw in Oklahoma,” Reece said.

“In my experience people usually come to their best during disasters of any kind. Blind panic is a useless emotion and will cause more danger that what the person is panicking about. It's called being human, and in many cases the concern is because the person has children or other's they are responsible for.”

Fire Chief Paul White, the city's emergency management coordinator, said people sometimes overreact to news of storms. He added there's a lesson to be learned.

“People need to prepare and plan," he said. “They tend to wait to the last minute. … It's common to overreact when you hear, for instance, that a hurricane or tornado is coming. That's when everybody starts trying to figure out what to do.”

The fire chief said he is concerned that a large amount of the population seems to believe government will always be there to rescue them in emergency situations – which isn't always going to be the case.

“When you think about it, there are only eight or nine firefighters on duty with a limit to things they can do,” White said.