Sorry, you need to enable JavaScript to visit this website.

Tornado Daily Leader’s top story of 2019

Sunday, December 29, 2019
Article Image Alt Text

Leader file photos
            Pictured is the destruction caused to the old Pow Wow gas station/convenience store on the I-20 Service beween North Trenton and North Vienna streets caused by the April 25 tornado that roared through Ruston.

The biggest news story of 2019 literally twisted its way across Lincoln Parish shortly before 2 a.m. on April 25.

That’s when an F3 tornado ripped through Ruston, killing two people and damaging or destroying as many as 350 homes and businesses in its path.

The storm snapped utility polls, leaving downed electric lines tangled in a spaghettilike mess with limbs and other debris. As much as 75% of the city was without power.

Kendra Butler, 35, and her 14-year-old son Remington, died when a tree crashed into their Evans Street home.

For two days, Ruston remained under a 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew because of the rubble and lack of electricity. Throughout the nights, military helicopters circled over the hardest hit shopping areas long I-20, shining their lights on damaged, boarded up stores.

The storm was the second to hit the city in two years, and would be the first of two to strike the parish in 2019.

In April 2018, an F2 storm damaged more than 100 homes in south Ruston. The anniversaryof the2018tornado was one week before the 2019 tornado.

The fast-moving storm began in Texas.

It started its Lincoln Parish trek at 1:47 a.m. April 25, about 2 miles southwest of Ruston near U.S. Highway 80.

The twister tore through the Cypress Springs neighborhood, picked up steam as it headed toward Louisiana Tech University where it did major damage to the school’s soccer, baseball and softball fields before hitting two hotels, leveling a convenience store and then pummeling several businesses in the Graham Shopping Center before finally crossing La. 33.

The 6.68-mile path cut the city in almost a straight line from southwest to northeast. Wind speeds in an F3 tornado are between 158 mph and 206 mph.

“We have widespread devastation that’s going to change the landscape of our parish and our city,” Kip Franklin, Lincoln Parish director of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, said the day the storm hit.

The tornado stayed on the ground eight minutes. At its widest point, the path stretched 1,000 feet — almost a quarter mile, the National Weather Service said.

The strongest damage occurred just after the storm crossed Greenwood Cemetery near downtown. The twister ripped the Ruston High School press box off of the football stadium and left Louisiana Tech University’s softball and baseball complexes in ruins.

A strip of metal from the softball stadium was found about 9 miles northeast of the campus.

At Louisiana Tech’s J.C. Love Field, the scoreboard was destroyed and a huge section of a concrete overhang above some of the seats was torn away from the stadium and thrown onto Alabama Street.

Nearly all of the outfield wall at the baseball field is gone, and the batting cage was damaged. The outfield fence at the Lady Techsters Softball Complex was destroyed, and the scoreboard was basically snapped in two.

The bullpen and batting cages behind the home team dugout were also destroyed.

Trees were tossed onto the top of the press box, and light poles were felled and left lying on the artificial turf.

The tornado caused more than $14 million in damage to public infrastructure across Lincoln Parish, about $11 million of which was in Ruston.

Preliminary damage estimates for Louisiana Tech were pegged at around $20 million.

“The epicenter of the disaster is here in Lincoln Parish,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said during a press conference following a helicopter ride around the city hours after the storm hit.

Mayor Ronny Walker called the devastation “incredible. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

During a return visit to Ruston on May 20, Edwards pledged “to do everything we can to return Ruston, Louisiana Tech to normal as soon as possible.”

The watchword became “Ruston Strong.” The phase appeared on T-shirts and yard signs and was the inspiration for a downtown mural.

Funerals draw 1,000 people

Ruston High School classmates of Remington Butler carry his casket during his funeral after he and his mother died as a result of the April 25 tornado.

Meantime, approximately 1,000 people attended the joint funeral service held in early May for Kendra and Remington Butler.

The 90-minute service held at Ruston’s Temple Baptist Church was an upbeat celebration of the lives of the mother and son whom firefighters found clutching each other.

“When they found Kendra, it was like the mother had her son in her arms and it was like the son had his arms around his mother,” the Rev. Maurice White, pastor of Zion Travelers Baptist Church in Ruston, said during the eulogy.

White said in the days after the storm he found himself asking why the tragedy had occurred.

“But God can speak peace on our hearts and our minds,” he said.

Adrian Hester, Remington’s basketball coach at Ruston High School, said he believes God had a plan for Remington, a Ruston High School freshman, even in the teen’s death.

“I feel like God told Remington, ‘bring Ruston together, make Ruston strong,’” Hester said to the loud applause of the crowd. “We should celebrate Remington today because one thing he did, he made Ruston strong.”

“Love is stronger than death,” Hester said, speaking directly to Remington’s extended family.

“God is your peace. God is your strength. God is love.”

As 2019 comes to an end, Ruston is still rebuilding.

The second hit

Pictured is the damage from the F1 tornado that hit Lincoln Parish on May 9.

About two weeks after the F3 tornado, an F1 tornado ripped through the southern part of Lincoln Parish shortly before 6 p.m. May 9. It caused no injuries or fatalities, but lifted a mobile home off its foundation and slammed the trailer down as a pile of rubble about 50 feet away.

Macey McFearin, of Quitman, left her tornado-damaged Ruston home between Carey Avenue and Shelor Drive in Ruston and moved into a mobile home just south of town. That was two weeks to the day before the May 9 storm hit — blowing her mobile home to bits.

“And now everything is just gone,” McFearin said the morning of May 10 as she looked at the ruins of the mobile home on Winborn Farm Road. “It’s crazy, I never thought it would happen again, but it did.”

First came floods

Pictured is flooding on the Grambling State University campus that occurred in early April of 2019.

Tornados were the biggest weather stories in 2019, but floods were the first newsmakers.

As 2018 ended, the region had received 32.4 inches of rain, approximately 12 inches above normal. From January 2019 through early April, 21.4 inches of rain fell.

That’s almost 6 inches above the normal 15.36 inches for the time period, National Weather Service figures showed.

On a Saturday in early April, more than 4 inches of rain fell, causing trees in the already waterlogged ground to topple, plunging roads underwater and forcing cancellation of classes at Grambling State University.

The next week, on April 14, — ironically, on the eve of the first anniversary of the 2018 tornado that damaged about 100 homes in south Ruston — 5 more inches of water fell, and 30 parish roads were submerged.

Eleven days later, the F3 tornado arrived.